Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who Can Defeat Me?

This is an oldie, but I kind of like it.

Who Can Defeat Me?

If God is with me,
Then who can defeat me?
Not the world who plots my destruction.
Not peer pressure's demands,
Nor the slight of man's hand.
I'm invincible, so don't even try.

If God is with me,
Then who can defeat me?
Not Satan with hard threats of hell.
Not anger and revenge.
You see, God will avenge,
So there is no hope for those with black hearts.

If God is with me,
Then who can defeat me?
Not you, no matter how bitter you are.
You can't make me fret
God will save me yet,
So I'm not afraid of mere flesh.

If God is with me,
Then who can defeat me?
No one can harm my soul.
My body for a while,
But I'll take it with a smile,
And in the end
To heaven
I'll go.

Emily Whelchel
September 14, 2006

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Facing Prejudice is on YouTube

Today I'm taking a little break from writing, so I thought I would give you a few updates.

The Facing Prejudice series is finally over.  It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life and I've been so happy to write about it.  If you want to see a little bit of video footage, you can check out a few of the videos here:


Getting Ready

At Lifeway

At the Mall

Like I've said in previous posts, if you have any ideas of future social experiments, feel free to share them.  Ali and I may try them out in the future.

Have a great day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Impact of a T-Shirt

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Christian t-shirts.

When you wear a Christian t-shirt, in a way, you could compare yourself to a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.  You are basically telling everyone around you, "I am a follower of Jesus Christ."  From the moment you step outside while wearing a Christian t-shirt, everyone who sees you will know Who you follow.  And every move you make from that point forward will cause an impression to be made -of you, yes- but also of Jesus.

Scary, isn't it?

People make judgments based on appearance.  If you wear a Christian t-shirt in public and act like a jerk, then people will inevitably look at you and think, "That's a Christian?  Man, I can't stand those people."  And in the back of their minds, a little voice will say, "If that's how the followers of God act... then that's how God must be too."

When you're wearing a shirt that displays your faith for all to see, everything you do and say is a witness to the people around you.  People are constantly judging Christ through you.

That's easy, you might be thinking.  I hardly ever cuss or steal or lie.  I don't get drunk in seedy bars and beat up the people around me.  I don't sell drugs.  I'm a pretty good person.  No big deal.  But the "big stuff" isn't all you should be worried about.

Small things -like smiling- are vitally important.  If you brush past a stranger and he's left thinking, "Christians are snobs," then that's a problem.  Smile.  Act friendly to those around you, even if you're having a bad day.  If you're seen openly complaining and making negative comments and someone thinks, "I didn't know Christians acted like this," that's a problem.  Think before you speak.  If you're seen griping at your parents over the phone or gossiping about a friend... that's a problem.

Everything you do will be scrutinized because people think, "I wonder what Christians are like" and then look at you.  1 Timothy 4:16 warns us to be conscientious of how we live because we are being observed.  People see Christ in us, no matter if we're acting like one of His disciples or not.

1 Corinthians 10:32 says, "Do not cause anyone to stumble."  How would you feel if you found out that someone turned away from God because they saw your actions and thought, "I was interested in God... but I sure don't want to be like that."  I've made the mistake of being a poor example for Christ.  Many times.  It's difficult to be a shining light all the time, but that is what we should strive to be.  Matthew 5:14 calls us to be cities on a hill.  People look to you when they want to see Christ.

Do I still think wearing Christian t-shirts is a good thing?  Absolutely.  Will I continue to wear them all the time?  You bet I will.  From this point forward, will I stop and think before I say or do something that might cause others to stumble?  Yes.

I know I've been called to be a city on a hill.  I know people judge my Savior based on my actions and words.  And from now on, I will strive to be a positive example for Him wherever I go.

Will you?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This is not a time to talk about Justin Bieber.

So over the last few weeks, I've given you some ideas of what to send and what to write to your sponsored child.  Today I'm going to tell you what you shouldn't send to your sponsored child.  Some conversation topics and little gifts are inappropriate or confusing for a child growing up in a third world country.  It can be difficult to know for sure what is taboo.


envelope-600x400.jpgDon't talk about...

1.) American pop culture. - Don't mention Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber when you're writing a letter to your sponsored child.  Kids in third world countries aren't around much television.  The pop culture icons they do know will often be celebrities from their country, not from yours, or celebrities that were most popular ten years ago, such as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.  Don't discuss movies, television shows, popular songs, or celebrities with your sponsored child.  You will most likely confuse her or make her feel inadequate.

2.) Politics. - Even if you don't like our president, your child may have been raised to adore him.  Your child might feel suspicious of you if you talk negatively about your government.  And do not put down your child's government.  You could get your child in trouble for possessing letters that talk badly about their political leaders.  Controversial political topics such as abortion and gay marriage should be avoided in your letters as well.

3.) Using slang. - Avoid metaphors and figures of speech in your letters.  Your child probably doesn't speak English as a first language.  He won't understand.  American slang, such as "homeboy" or "What's up?" could even be confusing to your child.

4.) Your worries and concerns. - Remember that your sponsored child has lived a difficult life.  She has probably seen many of her family members and friends pass away.  She's gone hungry.  She lives in poverty.  She has a lot of worries.  If you talk about family members of your own who have died or are dying, you could cause your child to worry about you as well, a burden that she doesn't need on top of everything else.  Avoid talking about severe illnesses, death, and financial worries.

5.) What your child would like you to send him. - While you might wonder what your child would prefer- stickers or a bookmark, it could put your child in a very awkward position.  He may have even been told by his sponsorship organization not to ask you for anything because you've already blessed him with so much.

6.) Poor scores on a child's report card. - Even if you are concerned about the low scores your child has received on a report card, don't specifically bring it up in your letters.  Your criticism could cause your child much embarrassment.  Your child will want to please you, but there could be serious factors in her life that are preventing her from making good grades in school.  If you're concerned about your child's school work, simply say something to the effect of, "Remember to try hard in school.  I know you're very smart and God has many plans for you, so you must always remember to do your best," and leave it at that.

7.) Your material possessions. - Don't describe how many rooms you have in your house or your Christmas presents you received.  This will make your child feel much different from you and perhaps even alienated and un-special.

8.) Your child's disease. - If your child has HIV or AIDS, don't bring it up unless your child speaks of it first.  HIV/AIDS can be a very embarrassing subject for your child to discuss.

9.) Your child's deceased friends and family members. - Avoid making your letters something sad for your child.  Don't question her about the dead.  Instead, send her encouraging notes and Bible verses.

10.) Talking about your child visiting you in the United States. - Even if you only say something like, "I wish you could come visit me in America one day," your child could easily take your words out of context and believe that you're coming to take him to America one day.  Don't give him false hopes.


Don't send your child...

1.) Money - Don't even send pennies in letters to your child.  What seems like a little bit of money to you is a lot of money to children in third world countries, and having pocket money can put them in danger.  Send money through your sponsorship organization.  They'll ensure that the money goes to help your child's family.

2.) Food - This can become bad through the mail, but it could also be confiscated by immigration or postal officials.

box-of-old-crayons-600x400.jpg3.) Crayons - These can melt in the mail.

4.) Markers and Pens - If these break, they'll make quite a mess in the letter.

5.) Photographs of your house - This will cause your child to feel alienated from your life.  This also goes for taking photos of your bedroom or any rooms in your home.  Your kitchen may be the size of your child's home.

6.) Photographs of your material possessions - Don't take pictures of your TV, cars, or even your new bookshelf.  Things that seem small and fascinating to your life will make your child feel inadequate to you.

7.) Photographs of your fancy vacations - While I encourage you to send pictures of scenery and plants, don't send pictures of the nice hotel where you're staying or the pretty pools at the resorts.

8.) Sharp Objects - Avoid sending pocket knives, pencil sharpeners, scissors, and fingernail clippers.

9.) Breakable Items - While it might be a cute gift, avoid sending something like a mirror, which could easily break in the mail and become sharp and dangerous or a disappointment for your child to receive.

10.) Political Newspaper Clippings - If you saw a little newspaper article about your child's country's latest scandal, please do not send that.  You could get your child in trouble.

11.) Used/Soiled Clothes - While some sponsorship organizations will encourage you to send underwear or socks to your child, please don't send used clothes.  Make your gifts something special.  Wal-Mart or a dollar store will have inexpensive underclothes for you to send your child instead.

toasted-pumpkin-seeds-texture-600x400.jpg12.) Seeds - These could be confiscated before they ever reach your child.

13.) Expensive-looking Toys - If you send your child very nice toys in the mail, these will alienate him from his peers and make him a target of jealousy.  Give your child cute and small gifts, but don't give him anything that will make his school mates and neighbors turn against him.

14.) Expensive-looking Jewelry - Even if the pretty earrings you want to send your child are only cubic zirconium, they might be taken as something very expensive and cause your child grief.

15.) Things your sponsorship program ask you not to send. - Each sponsorship program is different.  Compassion International has a very specific list of things you are not allowed to send, while World Vision only asks you to not send a few things.  Be sure to read over the list on your organization's website to ensure that you won't be breaking any rules and your letter will arrive safely into your child's hands.


I hope this list helped you.  Don't worry that your child won't like the little gifts or letters you send him.  Remember that you are providing your sponsored child with an education and food and medical care.  You are his hero.  He will be excited to hear from you, even if your letter might seem "lame" to your eyes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trinkets and Scribbles

Last week, I gave you twenty-five ideas of things to send in an envelope to your sponsored child.  Here are twenty-five more ideas.

1. Personal Notes from Family Members- So you wrote a letter to your sponsored child.  Get note cards and pass them out to family members.  Make your child feel totally special when he gets a bunch of extra little notes in his envelope.

2. Slap Bracelets- Kids love these things.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  The bracelets that look like straight, number-less rulers until you smack them against your wrist, and then they roll up and turn into bracelets.  You can get all sorts of designs and they fit great into an envelope.

3. Guitar Picks- Do you play the guitar?  A great way to show your child what kind of instrument you play is to send her one of your guitar picks.  At Christian book stores, you could even find guitar picks with Bible verses on them.  One idea is to punch a hole into the top of a guitar pick and run a piece of thread through the hole so your child can wear the pick as a necklace and think about you.

4. Stencils- Young children especially like this.  Choose stencils of simple items, like animals, shapes, and letters of the alphabet.

green-rubber-bands-600x600.jpg5. Colored Rubber Bands- Nothing is handier than a rubber band.  Especially a colorful one. :)

6. Comb- This is a great gift for little girls, but boys could use combs too.  You can purchase flat, inexpensive combs at most dollar stores.

7. Construction Paper- Send sheets of colorful construction paper for your sponsored child to use for school.  It's a guaranteed hit.  You could even ask your child to use one of the sheets to draw you a picture.

8. Stamps- Send flat stamps with ink to your child... or stamp small squares of paper with cute messages and pictures.

9. Stick Gum- Be sure to check with the organization you use for sponsorship.  Some organizations don't allow perishable items like gum to be sent to your child.

10. Underwear- Folded flat into the envelope, it is possible to send underwear to your sponsored child.  It's much needed, too!  Get cutesy underwear: flowers and hearts for girls and turtles and race cars for boys.  Be sure to send new underwear, not used.  You'll want your gift to be special.

11.Pencils- For obvious reasons, be sure to send unsharpened pencils.  School accessories like pencils will be much-appreciated by your sponsored child.  Pencils are always needed for school... and possibly even for writing letters to you!  If you send your child a mechanical pencil and some lead, he may be amazed.

12. Erasers- Send a flat eraser or two with your letter.  These will also be used for school.

13. Ruler- Be sure that it isn't metal with sharp edges or a thin, fragile plastic.  I would recommend that you send a sturdy plastic or wood.  Because envelopes are generally shorter than an entire foot, you may want to send a six-inch ruler.

14. Colored Pencils- This would be a great gift for your child's birthday or Christmas.  If your child enjoys drawing pictures for you and sending them with his letter, he will most likely adore some colored pencils.  Start with basic colors, like red, blue, and yellow.

15. Mini Craft Kits- You can find a ton of these at craft stores.  Send your child crafts made of foam, Popsicle sticks, or cloth.  Be sure to felt-ice-skates-ornament-600x400.jpginclude instructions that will be easy for your child to understand.

16. Seasonal Trinkets- If it's Christmas time, send a paper snowflake.  If it's Thanksgiving, make one of those hand print Turkeys and send it to your child.  Small cross trinkets work for almost any season, and they'll be treasured as something beautiful by your sponsored child's family.

17. Family Christmas Card- If your family is like mine, you send an annual Christmas card to friends and family, sharing a photograph of your family and a quick message that shares Christmas cheer.  Go ahead and send one to your sponsored child as well.  Make her feel extra special.  She'll love the family photo.

18. Blow Up Balls- Flattened beach balls and things like that will fit well into an envelope.  Your sponsored child, especially if he's a boy, will love this gift.

19. Pages from iSpy and Where's Waldo Books- It may be horrifying to tear pages out of a book, but these are great games to send to your child.  They'll love to search and find all the different pictures.  You could even make it an ongoing game between the two of you and each take a turn finding a hidden object.

mardi-gras-beads-closeup-600x400.jpg20. Beads- Some beads are flatter than others.  If you're feeling very creative, send some yarn along with the bead and let your child make her own bracelet!

21. Magnets- There are so many magnets available, and they fit quite well into an envelope.  You could purchase them as souvenirs when you go on vacation or buy magnets with Bible verses from the Christian bookstore.

22. Handkerchief- Fold up a pretty, delicate handkerchief for your sponsored child.  If you're extra creative, you could even try to handmake one!

23. Bible Verse Cards- Share a couple of pretty Bible verses every time you write your child a letter.  Perhaps you could both try to memorize the verses together.  Write them on note cards so the child can carry the verse around with him to school and such.

24. Pre-Printed Surveys- If you're having trouble getting your child to reach out and talk about many things in letters, type out a survey asking easy questions like, "What is your favorite sport?" or "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  Your sponsored child can fill out the survey and send it back to you with her next letter.

25. About Me Cards- On a note card, ask an easy question, like, "What is the weather like where you live?"  On one side of the card, write your answer.  Your sponsored child can answer the question on the other side and send the note card back to you.  It's a great way to communicate and learn more about each other.


That's my complete list of things you can send to your sponsored child.  I hope some of my ideas helped you out a bit.  I know your child will be ecstatic, no matter what you send her.  Tomorrow I'll post the last article in this "Sponsoring A Child" series.  This post will cover the things you definitely shouldn't send your child.

What is your sponsored child's name and age?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Facing Prejudice: The Results

Today Ali and I will answer some questions about our social experiment we called "Facing Prejudice," where Ali dressed up in a Muslim hijab and visited various locations in our city to see how our community treated Muslims.

41086_1606862529934_1187288064_1725342_1088105_n.jpgDo you think the social experiment was successful?
Ali: I do, because we got responses.  We got to see how people reacted to differences.
Emily: I think the social experiment was definitely successful.  I learned a lot by seeing how people treated Ali when she was wearing the hijab.  I'm always very careful to never appear prejudiced, but now I realize that even avoiding someone to try not to appear prejudiced can be a form of prejudice in itself!  After our experiment, I had to realize the level of prejudice our community still has against Muslims.  From now on, if I ever see a Muslim woman, I'll definitely make an effort to smile at her and greet her.  I'll also try to raise more awareness about the prejudice within my community.

Did the experiment change the way you view prejudice?
Ali: Yeah.  I'm Hispanic, so there's sometimes prejudiced people against me.  I don't like it when people are prejudiced towards me and I don't want to be prejudiced, but I think all of us have prejudiced moments at one point or the other.  We need to realize [that].  I wouldn't have thought avoiding someone would have been prejudice.  If I ignored someone, it would probably be because I didn't want them to think I was judging them, but in reality, by completely ignoring them like people did to me, I was being prejudiced because I was treating them differently.
Emily: Definitely.  I always thought of prejudice as someone treating another person with hateful words and condescension, but I never really thought of prejudice as someone avoiding someone else.  There are a lot of forms of prejudice and all of them are hurtful and need to end.  

P1000713_2.jpgSo do you think there is prejudice towards Muslims in your community?
Ali: Oh, yes.  Very much!  You could tell that the moment I entered any place.  You could really tell it in the Sonic line.  Even in Christian bookstores, which is sad.
Emily: There is definitely still prejudice against Muslims in my community.  Like Ali said, when no one would stand in the same line at Sonic as Ali, that showed a lot about how people in our community feel about Muslims.  Yes, there are some high emotions surrounding Islam and terrorism, but Ali was a young teenage girl.  She was smiling and acted friendly towards everyone around her.  Muslims are still people and deserve to be treated like anyone else.

How do you think your community should change the way it treats Muslims?
Ali: I don't think we should treat them differently [than we treat each other], because they're still people and they still have feelings.  They might believe something differently, but they still feel the looks and I'm sure they're still hurt by them.  I was hurt by them, and I'm not even a Muslim.  I was hurt by how people just kind of stayed away from me and didn't even smile at me.  I mean, I'm still a person.
Emily: I wish everyone in my community would just smile at Muslims.  Don't avoid them.  Don't whisper openly about them.  Don't nudge each other when you see them.  Don't glare at them.  Especially when the Muslim in question is a teenage girl who's probably dealing with self esteem issues, just like any other girl.  Even if you're not a Muslim, just be friendly to everyone.  Treat everyone equally.

P1000712.jpgWere the reactions what you expected them to be?
Ali: In a way, yes.  I mean, I expected people to be kind of rude and [to] get some looks, but I think they exceeded my expectations, because I wasn't expecting people to move lines because of me.  I was expecting some looks, but I wasn't expecting so many.  I thought [people] would still smile at me.
Emily: No, they actually weren't.  I didn't expect all of the nudges and stares and glares.  And I absolutely 100% did not expect people to refuse to stand in the same line as a Muslim girl.  That was ridiculous.  I suppose I thought my community wasn't very prejudiced at all.  In fact, I was a little worried that our experiment would turn up nothing because no one would react to Ali in her hijab.  Boy, was I wrong.  I kind of wish I wasn't.

Were the reactions of the Christian community what you expected them to be?
Ali: No, no, not at all.  I expected more reaching out attitudes, evangelical attitudes, and [I was] kind of excited that I was there so they could lead me the right way, and I got completely the opposite [response].
Emily: Definitely not.  I didn't expect the people who worked at Lifeway to entirely ignore Ali.  I wasn't expecting anyone to stand up and start witnessing, but I expected more smiles and friendly greetings.  After all, like St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."  He also said, "It is not fitting, when one is in God's service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look."  He was a wise man.  Perhaps those workers should hang some of his quotes up on the wall to remind them.  If I had been a Muslim girl curious about the Christian faith, the attitudes of the people at the first Christian store we visited would have made me want to run for the hills.  I was more impressed with the attitude of the cashier at the second Christian bookstore we visited.  Her response to Ali was more what I expected before we began the experiment.  

Will you treat Muslim women differently after this experience?
Ali: I will.  I almost feel like a hypocrite because I was so mad that people weren't looking at me or smiling at me, but I do the same thing.  Whenever I looked at Muslim people, I wouldn't look at them for too long because I was scared that they would think, 'Oh, yeah, she's judging us,' but in reality, if I completely avoid them, that's worse!
Emily: I definitely will.  I've met a few Muslim girls in the past and I don't feel prejudice or dislike towards them at all, but I'm going to be sure to deliberately smile at every Muslim woman I see from now on.  Being avoided is an awful feeling.

Did you enjoy wearing a hijab?
Ali: No.  It's not a loose scarf!  I hated it.  It was really bad at first, but I kind of got used to it, but I just felt really tied up.  It's very uncomfortable.  I couldn't even move my neck much, and then if I did, I would be nervous about messing [the scarf] up.  It was constricting.
Emily: Obviously, I didn't go out in public in the hijab, but when I was practicing how to tie the scarf, I wore it around the house for a little while and could hardly stand it.  I know the hijab is something girls must have to get used to, but I thought it was extremely uncomfortable and constricting.  I felt like I could hardly turn my head or bend over without having to fuss with my scarf.  I also felt hot and stuffy after wearing the hijab for very long.  I didn't enjoy wearing it at all.

Do you think teenage girls are too young to wear a hijab?
Ali: In a way, yes, but I guess it's up to any girl's maturity level.  Most young teens, I doubt it.  Maybe sixteen.  I think it could have a damaging effect on their self esteem.
Emily: I think it's up to the individual girl, but I think pressure should not be put on a young Muslim girl to wear the hijab while still in high school.  Girls in America have to deal with peer pressure and self esteem problems without having to face stares and dirty looks everywhere they go.  

What have you learned from this experience?
Ali: I learned that I am kind of prejudiced because I know what my reaction would have been towards Muslim women and it's not how I would have wanted.  And it's funny because I wouldn't have thought about it, but I am [prejudiced]... well, I was.
Emily: I've learned how much prejudice exists within my community.  I never realized how much prejudice there actually was.  This experiment also helped me empathize with Muslim girls, more than I ever have before. 

26800_1427956297390_1187288064_1264238_314677_n.jpgDid this experiment make you want to attempt other social experiments? Do you have anything in mind?
Ali: Oh yeah!  It pushed my curiosity to test people.  I would like to dress up like a homeless girl, but that would be more risky.  I want to see people's reactions and how they treat [the homeless].  I think, in a way, I expect them to treat a homeless girl worse than they treat Muslims!  A lot of glares and rude comments, maybe.  At least we didn't get any rude comments [when I dressed up as] the Muslim girl.
Emily: Most definitely!  I love experiments like this, and I'm always thinking of situations I would like to test out on people.  I love to see reactions.  In the future, I'd like to disguise myself as a teenage mother and see how people treat me, either by dressing up like I'm pregnant or borrowing someone's baby for the day.  I also might like to test some boundaries and see how people respond to interracial relationships, but that's just an idea still burrowing in the back of my mind.  We'll see if it ever happens. :)

Do you have any social experiments you'd like me and Ali to try?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Face Like Grace

I'm going to show you another picture I took while in Kenya, Africa.

6771_1204437949571_1187288064_625102_2229224_n.jpgThis photograph is simple, but beautiful, in my opinion.  The elderly lady in this picture was so sweet and gentle and soft spoken.  The creases and lines on her worn face only give her more grace.

Whenever I see her picture, I know that she's been through many difficult times.  She's seen things I couldn't imagine.  She knows what it means to suffer, but she also knows joy.

I pray for this woman and her family quite frequently, even though I never even learned the woman's name.

You know, I think she's absolutely beautiful.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


This is another old poem that I wrote when I was in the eighth grade.  I can tell that I was trying very hard to sound poetic!  It's a sweet poem, even if it's stumbling at times.

A simple dream; a cloudy mist,
Of memories long ago.
A traveling mind of tender thoughts
That cherish what you know.

Some suffering and heartbreak,
Your life a lingering song.
And troubles once, now gone away.
As life continues long.

So treasure every heartbeat.
Take care of memories all,
And live your life until the end,
When nature comes to call.

Emily Whelchel
April 3, 2007

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I Hear the Rain

The rain is falling quietly; I hear it on the glass,
On the glass of the foggy window pane.
It clatters and it whispers; it pauses and it sighs,
And I sigh, "How I love to hear the rain."

The rain touches the daisies, bending their leaves,
Bending the leaves of the weeping willow tree.
I have to smile; how I love the gently falling rain.
The gently falling rain is soft and sweet.

The rain knocks against my ceiling, quiet and soft.
Quiet, soft against the shingles of the rooftop.
'Til the thunder starts to growl in a gentle harmony,
In harmony until the rain finally stops.

January 18, 2011
Emily Whelchel

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Facing Prejudice: Funny Reactions

Throughout this month, I've been writing about the social experiment my best friend and sister Ali and I created to test the level of prejudice our community holds against Muslims.  Ali dressed up in a hijab and visited a few different stores in our small Texas city.  She received both dirty looks and smiles.  While there were a few acts of direct prejudice towards Ali, ali and i are jpgthere were one or two acts of kindness as well.

One of the most fun parts of Ali's disguise was showing it off to our friends and family.  Like I've said before, Ali is Mexican, not Middle Eastern, so it was quite funny to see the looks of shock on the faces of people we know.  "She looks so Middle Eastern," they would say over and over.

Even as Ali's best friend and someone who sees her for several hours each day, it was hard for me to wrap around how Middle Eastern Ali actually appeared when she wore the hijab and "Muslim" clothing.  I even joked around that I felt like I was hosting a foreign exchange student from the Middle East whenever Ali wore her hijab in public.

Right before Ali and I left the house to visit Lifeway Christian Store, we noticed that my eleven-year-old brother, Luke, was at home.  We decided to show off Ali's disguise.  

Now let me tell you an interesting story about Luke.  For some reason, he won't admit that Ali doesn't look white.  Perhaps in his mind, admitting that Ali is Mexican makes her seem like less of his sister... we aren't sure.  One day, when he was eating lunch, Ali and I approached him.  This was around the time when the idea of our social experiment was first coming into existence, so Ali and I had been discussing whether or not she could pass as Middle Eastern.  "Luke," I asked 33565_1688465769964_1187288064_1900627_8114068_n.jpgcasually, "does Ali look Mexican to you?"

For the hundredth time, Ali is Mexican.  100% Mexican.  She looks Mexican because she is Mexican.

Swallowing hard, Luke glanced at Ali and then down at his hands.  He seemed worried and embarrassed.  "Emily, how am I supposed to answer that?" he finally said, his cheeks flushing bright red.

Ali and I spent the next fifteen minutes laughing.  The appropriate answer would be yes.  Of course Ali looks Mexican!  Her birth family is from Mexico.

We were eager to show Luke what Ali looked like dressed up like a Muslim.  Who knew how he would respond?  Sure enough, as soon as Luke saw Ali's clothes, a sheepish grin came over his face.  He couldn't stop staring at her, but he wouldn't say anything.

"Does Ali look Middle Eastern to you?" I asked, trying to stifle my laughter.

Luke hesitated for a long moment, looking at Ali and then back at me with an unsure expression etched across his face.  "I'm leaving!" he finally announced before walking hurriedly away.  He still couldn't admit that Ali looked different from us.  My little brother never ceases to bring a smile to my face.

73019_1674847749522_1187288064_1876344_3213617_n.jpgMy mother's reaction was everything we could have hoped for.  She was amazed and made Ali turn around in a full circle, hardly able to believe her own eyes.  "You don't even look Hispanic like this," she said incredulously.  My younger sister Amy couldn't stop giggling.

After Ali and I finished visiting various stores in my city, we decided to drop by our friend Rebekah's house.  Rebekah had just undergone major knee surgery and was still confiscated to a bed, so she often was bored and lonely.  We knew she could use some cheering up.  A huge smile came over her face when she saw Ali's costume.  "At first, I thought, 'What does Ali have on her head?'  And then I realized what it was...  You guys are amazing!" Rebekah said, laughing.  We spent the next thirty minutes showing Rebekah how to properly wrap a Muslim hijab.  Everyone should learn a skill like that at some point.

The moral of this post is... if you ever want a great conversation-starter, then all you have to do is dress up in a hijab and see how your friends and family respond.  The reactions are always priceless.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Things to Send Your Sponsored Child

So you sponsor a child.  Perhaps you've communicated with your sponsored child through letters, but you want to send your child a little gift to show your love for him.  What can you possibly stuff inside of a small envelope?  You can't send a TV or a new outfit.  Only a few things can fit flat into an envelope.  Sure, you could go and stick random, useless items into an envelope that your child won't understand, like a Pokemon card or Barbie clothes.  Or you could choose to send creative, useful things that your sponsored child will love.  Let me give you a few ideas.

1. Photographs - This should be an obvious choice.  Your sponsored child will long to see photographs of you and your family.  She'll birthday-cards-600x400.jpgwant to know what you look like, what your parents look like, what your little brother or your kids look like.  Send pictures of your family, pets, weather, backyard, sky, grass, local birds, friends, neighbors, vacations, holidays.  Avoid sending pictures of your home, bedroom, and material possessions.  You don't want to make your sponsored child feel inadequate.

2. Stickers - All kids love stickers.  Stick some stickers onto your actual letter, but send some sticker sheets to let your child use them on his own.  Send stickers of things that a child growing up in a developing country will understand, like animals and flowers and hearts and not necessarily transformers and Disney princesses.  If your child isn't white, you may not want to send a bunch of stickers of beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed fairies and princesses.  It might make her dislike her appearance.

3. Silly Bands - I knew there had to be a use for these popular kids' bracelets.  Silly Bands easily fit into an envelope.  I used Silly Bands to spell out the letters of my sponsored child's name.  How special!

4. Bookmarks - Send bookmarks that feature pictures of animals, holograms, or sweet Bible verses.  This might even encourage your child to read more!

5. Postcards - When you're out on vacation, grab a postcard and send it to your child.  What a great way to let him know that you're thinking of him all the time, even when you're traveling.  He'll feel special that he has a postcard from somewhere new and exciting.

6. Hair Accessories - If your sponsored child is a girl, send colorful elastic hair bands, ribbons, and clips.  Make sure that if your child lives in Africa, she doesn't have a shaved head or short-cropped hair.

childs-crayon-drawing-of-tree-sun-and-flowers-600x400.jpg7. Homemade Drawings - Draw pictures for your child.  Draw your backyard, your pets, or even yourself.  Draw the foods you like to eat.  Draw your school.  Draw your hobbies, sports, and the instruments you play.  If you have kids, ask them to draw pictures to send to your sponsored child.

8. Paper Dolls - This is another good gift for little girls.  You can send dolls and little paper outfits for your sponsored child to play with.  You may want to laminate the doll itself, because it may become well-worn over time.  If you can find a doll with your child's ethnicity, that would be a bonus.

9. Puzzles - Purchase a small puzzle and take it out of the box.  You can tape the individual puzzle pieces to the back of your letter.

10. Origami - Make your child an origami creature and flatten it into the envelope.  You could also send origami paper and instructions that are easy to follow.  That would be a fun craft for your child to do.

11. Coloring Pages - All kids like to color.  You could even send colored pencils along with the coloring page.

12. Socks - Socks, especially those for small children, can be flattened out and placed into an envelope.  Most children will need socks.  This is a great idea for Christmas and birthday gifts.  Be sure to send a new pair of socks.

13. Colorful Ribbons - These will be pretty and eye-catching to your child.  If your child is a girl, she might even be able to tie the ribbon into her hair or use it as a bracelet.  If your child is a boy, he could use the ribbon as a bookmark.

14. Balloons - Obviously, you'll want to send the balloon flat, not aired-up.

15. Stick-On Tattoos - In some cultures, these might not be acceptable, especially for girls.  Be sure to send instructions on how to put on the tattoo.  Avoid sending tattoos that have inappropriate images.  Send innocent images, like a cross, smiley face, or animal.

16. Poetry - Write your child a poem.  Be sure to mention that you wrote it just for him!  You might even want to include his name within the poem.

17. Band-Aids - You may want to explain what band-aids are for.  Use colorful, eye-catching band-aids rather than those with images of popular American icons, like Transformers or Superheros that your sponsored child might not be able to understand.

18. Buttons - Buttons are useful, flat, and cute.  Girls will especially love these.

19. Baseball/Soccer/Basketball/Etc Cards - Boys of all countries love sports.  You might be surprised about their knowledge of popular athletes.  They'll treasure sports cards.

red_and_green_autumn_leaf-400x600.jpg20. Pressed Flowers/Leaves - You may want to laminate these so they won't crumble in the mail.  Pressed flowers and leaves can hep your child see what kind of plants you have where you live.

21. Magazine/Newspaper Cut-Outs - You might see an encouraging article with a targeted audience to children.  Clips from kids magazines are great things to send to your child, along with kid devotionals, Bible stories, and the little games you might find in the back of a newspaper.

22. Small Calendar Pages - A child might not ever have her own calendar.  Print out small pages and circle dates with American holidays and your birthday.  Be sure to send the calendar several months in advance in order for there to be time for your letter to be delivered.

23. Friendship Bracelets - Those little bracelets that are made out of colorful braids and string are small and pretty.  Explain to your child what a friendship bracelet is.  Perhaps you could wear an identical one to help you remember to pray for your child.

24. Print-Out Games - Go onto the internet and print out easy word puzzles, tic-tac-toe, and other easy games like that.  Kids love games.  Be sure to send some easy directions so they'll know what to do.  If you send a game of Hangman, you may want to re-name it something less gruesome, like Puppet.

25. Charm Bracelet and Charms - I've used this idea on my sponsored child, Lavin.  First send an empty charm bracelet.  Be sure that the links aren't too thick so that you can easily tape the bracelet flat against the back of your letter.  Throughout the next several letters, send different flat charms for your child to hang from her bracelet.  On important holidays and when you travel on vacation, you can send special charms to your child.


I'll give you twenty-five more ideas of things to send to your sponsored child next week, along with a list of things that you definitely should not send to your child.  I hope this list has given you some ideas.

What is the coolest thing you've ever sent to your sponsored child?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Facing Prejudice: At a Local Christian Bookstore

My sister Ali and I decided to create a social experiment of sorts.  Ali dressed up in a Muslim hijab for a day and visited various locations in our small Texas city, curious to see how our community treated the Muslim minority.  During an afternoon, Ali and I visited Lifeway Christian Store and several stores in the mall.  Finally, we chose to visit a smaller local Christian 59182_1606862769940_1187288064_1725344_372842_n.jpgbookstore in my city to see how both its workers and customers treated Ali.

This time around, Ali and I chose to pretend we didn't know each other.  I entered the store two or three minutes before Ali did, nodded and smiled when the female cashier at the front desk greeted me, and turned to examine some decorative crosses on a table towards the front of the shop.

Minutes passed and Ali walked in, earning curious stares from the two or three customers in the store.  I glanced up at her to appear like any other customer, but resumed my examination of the crosses.  Much to my surprise and delight, the cashier greeted Ali, just like she had greeted me.  "How may I help you?"

"Could you help me find the Quest Study Bible?" Ali asked, just as we had rehearsed.  The cashier seemed willing enough.  She acted completely normal as she led Ali to the Bible aisle and pointed out the Bible Ali wanted before heading back to the front desk.

Ali meandered about the small bookstore, flipping through pages and glancing over Scripture cards before walking back to the front desk.  "I'd like to order a pre-owned copy of Like Dandelion Dust by Karen Kingsbury."  I had no idea what Ali was talking about; this wasn't what we had planned, but I waited patiently as Ali placed the order.  When the cashier asked her name, much to our hilarity, Ali replied, "Ali," but pronounced her name "AH-lee" rather than "Allie."  Ali's name is actually a shortened version of Alejandra, but because of its spelling, people often mistake it for the Middle Eastern pronunciation, which came in handy that day.

After a few moments, Ali completed her order and left the store, heading to my car, which was parked discreetly behind the building.  I browsed for a few more minutes and then headed to the front desk to purchase a few small bookmarks and Scripture cards that I purchased for my sponsored child.

"Isn't that interesting that a Muslim girl came in here?" I asked casually, watching the cashier's face for her reaction.

Her blue eyes widened and she bobbed her head.  Her voice rose with excitement.  "I know.  It was so weird.  I could hardly believe it!"

"Do Muslims come in here often?"

The cashier shook her head.  "No!  They never come here," she said dramatically.  "Never.  This is the first time something like this has happened.  That was so strange."

P1000708.jpg"That was definitely interesting," I replied with a soft smile.  I left the store quickly, hardly unable to contain my excitement.  I hurried to my car and burst inside, laughing.  I felt like an undercover agent as I told Ali about the conversation that had gone on between me and the cashier.

After we had a good laugh, we began to talk about what we thought of how the female cashier had treated Ali.  Our feelings were positive.  The lady spoke to Ali like a human being.  She greeted her when Ali walked in through the front door, and the lady offered her help.  She didn't stare at Ali or avoid her like the cashiers at Lifeway had.  While the cashier may have been baffled, as she expressed to me, she didn't show her feelings to Ali.  She made Ali feel like any other human being walking into the store, hijab or not.

We were impressed.

Overall, the local Christian bookstore offered Ali the least amount of prejudice of any other store we visited.  The customers seemed curious, which was natural, but they didn't stare too long at Ali or give her dirty looks.  The cashier was friendly and acted natural, like nothing was strange about the way Ali dressed, even if she thought otherwise.  The environment of the store was a great place for a real Muslim teen who might be curious about the Christian faith to be able to visit without feeling alienated from others.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crossing the Old Bridge

This is another old poem that I wrote several years ago, when I went through a phase of not rhyming in my poetry.
Crossing the Old Bridge

Look to the past.
Your mind strays from the present.
Aching heart,
Bubbling laughter,
A tribute to good and bad times.
Cross the old bridge,
From present to past.
Relive your life.
Run from your future.
Remember everything.
And try not to
Away from

Emily Whelchel
September 11, 2006

Friday, January 14, 2011

Questions to Ask Your Sponsored Child

Earlier this week, I wrote an article sharing topics to write about when composing a letter to your sponsored child.  Today I'll be expanding a little more about things you should ask your sponsored child.  Each letter you send should contain a few basic questions for your child to answer.  Otherwise, his letters to you will probably look something like this:

Hello _________,
My name is _________.  I was born on __________.  I am trying hard at school.  I am in grade ______.  I pray for you often. God bless you for being my sponsor.
Love, ________

Part of the joy of sponsoring a child is the relationship you will form together.  If you struggle to think of what to say to your sponsored lavin receiving her letter from jpgchild, imagine what he must feel!  He probably can't even imagine the life that you have.  You're probably wealthier than the wealthiest person he knows.  You live in a mysterious, rich place to children in third world countries.  When you ask your child simple questions, he'll be able to better know what to write about in his letters.  By asking specific questions to your child, you will also be able to figure out things about his life.

Be sure not to ask too many questions in each letter or your child might feel overwhelmed.  Keep the letter simple, asking only three or four questions at the most, but sharing a few things about your life as well.

Here are some ideas of what to ask your sponsored child:

1. How old are you/what grade are you in? - Often, children will already share this, but if your child doesn't, go ahead and ask her.  Avoid asking what your child's birthday is, because birthdays aren't often celebrated or even known in third world countries.

2. How many people are in your family? - Ask about parents, brothers, and sisters.  Ask how many people live in your child's home.  If your child is an orphan, avoid talking much about the subject of his deceased family members.

3. Who is your best friend? - Every child has a best friend or two.  Your child will most likely be eager to tell you about the person she loves the most.  Ask why she loves her best friend.  Ask what they talk about when they're together.

4. What is your favorite game/sport?

5. What is your favorite class at school?

6. What is your favorite chore? - As odd as this may seem, many children in developing countries enjoy helping their families with basic chores.

7. What is your schedule at school? - Ask your child to describe his day at school.  What classes does he have?  What time does he wake up in the morning and go to bed at night?

8. What is the weather like where you live? - Is it hot, cold, rainy, dry?  What is your child's favorite weather?

9. What is your favorite Bible verse/story? - Be sure to share one of yours as well.

10. What is your favorite part of church? - If you sponsor a child with a Christian organization, then your child will most likely attend church.  Ask your child what she is learning.

11. What is your favorite food? - Be prepared to have to Google your child's favorite food.  It may be something native to his country, like ugali.

12. What is your favorite animal? - Nearly all children love to talk about animals.  You could ask other simple questions like that, such as your child's favorite color, flower, number, etc.

13. What does your house/school/church look like? - Ask your child to describe where he lives and goes to school.  You could even ask her to draw you a picture.  This will help you better understand the conditions in which your child lives.

14. What are you learning in school? - See what kind of education your child is getting.  Avoid talking about grades and test scores so your child won't feel inadequate if she makes poor grades.

15. What are some of your favorite family memories? - Share a family memory or two of your own.  Getting your sponsored child to talk about family memories is a great way to catch a glimpse of his life and family relationships.

16. What do you want to be when you grow up?

17. What makes you laugh? - Your child may end up telling you some bizarre joke that you don't understand because of the culture difference, but this will also help you look into your child's life and personality.

18. Do you have any prayer requests? - While you should definitely be praying for your child already, your child may be struggling with some specific things that you could pray for.  Letting your child know that you're praying for her can also help strengthen your relationship.

19. Write a story together. - You and your sponsored child can each write a sentence or two of an ongoing story.  This is a great way to keep up an interactive relationship.

20. Play games together. - Start an ongoing game of tic-tac-toe or a word search.  This is another great way to bond with your child.


If nothing seems to work, perhaps you could print out a little survey that asks easy questions.  Your child could fill out the survey and send it back to you in a letter.  Write to your child with drawings and ask him to send drawings back.  Make note cards with a question and your answer on one side.  Your child can send the note card back to you with an answer written on the back.

What things do you ask your sponsored child?  What is the cutest thing your child has ever said to you in a letter?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Facing Prejudice: At the Mall

Over the last couple of weeks, I've posted about a social experiment I've been undergoing with my sister, Ali.  Ali dressed up in a Muslim hijab and visited various public places in my city so we could see if my community has obvious prejudice against Muslims.

After visiting Lifeway Christian Store, Ali and I decided to go to the mall and see what awaited us there.  Almost immediately, Ali began to feel distressed and humiliated.  "I'm getting so many bad looks, Emily," she kept whispering.  "I feel like everyone is staring at me."  It was true.  As I began to look around, I noticed people staring at Ali with irritation or even disgust, like a Jr. High P1000711.jpg girl might look at someone she felt was "beneath" her.

We went straight to the restrooms at first.  Almost immediately, a lady who was sweeping the floor gave Ali an open look of curiosity before leaving the room.  Ali kept shaking her head and covering her face with her hands.  "Everyone was looking at me, Emily.  They never see Muslims.  Nobody likes me.  I don't know how the real Muslim girls can do this every day."  Together, we talked for a moment.  We were expecting to get strange looks.  That was the point of the experiment.  I continued to remind Ali that they weren't judging her.  They were judging who they thought she was.

After a few moments, we were ready to go back out into the public eating area.  We decided to get a snack, so we headed over to Sonic.  There were two cash registers, so two lines had formed behind each of them.  Ali and I chose to stand in the line on the right side.  After a few moments, we began to notice something peculiar.

The left line was growing increasingly longer, winding around, but no one had come to stand behind us.

Ali was mortified.  Were the people in our community so prejudiced against Muslims that they would not even stand in the same line as one?  I joked with Ali, murmuring that perhaps people didn't want to stand in our line because they were so jealous of her beauty, but Ali kept shaking her head.  "It's because of me.  They don't even want to stand in the same line as me."  And her words seemed to be the truth.  While there were only two people in line in front of us, making four in total, people were stepping into a line with twelve or thirteen people in front of them.  It seemed ridiculous.  This was the first blatantly obvious sign of prejudice we saw that day.  It was horrifying.

A couple of teenage boys stood a few yards away while we waited in line.  Ali will tell the story in her own words.  "There were some boys that were standing in front of us.  They were eighteen or nineteen, and one of the guys turned to where he could see me more clearly.  Then he whispered something to the guy [next to him] and kind of motioned towards me.  The [other] guy 'discreetly' turned around, but it was obvious he was looking at me.  They were both talking about me, and it was totally obvious."  

P1000713_2.jpgAfter we got our snacks, we sat down at a central table in the middle of the food court.  For a while, we counted stares, but then we began to discuss the difficulties Ali was having as a pretend young Muslim girl living in America.  "Do you think things are very different from when you're not dressed in a hijab?" I asked her.

Ali rolled her eyes.  "Oh yeah.  I don't get looks like that [normally]."

"How would you rather people look at you?"

She sighed, thinking for a moment.  "I just wish they would smile at me, not treat me differently.  It just makes me feel uncomfortable.  It makes me feel bad for being different."  Isn't that the truth?  What teenage girl likes to be treated like something is wrong with her?  And yet that is exactly how Ali was being treated by everyone around her.

"How do you feel for teenage Muslim girls?" I asked quietly.

Ali shook her head.  "I feel terrible!  I feel bad for them because it's mostly teenage people who are looking at me weird.  I'd feel terrible.  I think it would just make a girl feel bad about [herself]."

Later, we decided to walk to Dillards, a department store.  We walked around for a few minutes and were both greeted by a male cashier.  He didn't look at Ali strangely or call attention to the way she was dressed.  He simply greeted us both in an neutral tone and asked if he could help us.  The man wasn't white; he was Middle Eastern, so perhaps he knew how it felt to have prejudice directed towards him.  His friendliness was a breath of fresh air after the dirty looks Ali had received from so many passersby.

On the way out of Dillards, we passed a group of young teens who were probably still in Jr. High.  A few of them nudged each other, whispering to each other and eying Ali as she walked by.  Their open stares were obvious and humiliating, but they also made the teens seem insensitive and inconsiderate.

We stopped at a store called Vanity as well, where the cashiers smiled at me and frowned openly at Ali, as if she wasn't welcome.  We soon hurried out of the store, mostly because we felt awkward under the constant stares of the women.

P1000712.jpgFinally, Ali and I decided to make one more stop at the restroom.  Ali soon told me of something she saw that I missed.  "While we were in the restroom, two girls passed by.  They were [about] twelve, and one of the girls nudged the other girl.  It was totally obvious, and they just kind of whispered."  Ali was embarrassed.  It was as if people didn't notice that she could see their nudges and stares.  She could hear their whispers.  Just because Ali was wearing a hijab, it didn't mean she was blind and deaf.

As we left a few minutes later, we stumbled across another Muslim woman.  She was an adult and she walked with two young children.  When she saw Ali, she smiled and there was an obvious connection.  I'll let Ali tell you about this experience.  "This lady had a hijab on and you could tell she was Muslim.  She walk[ed] in and I just felt this relief, almost, that there was another person like me in the restroom!  And she even said assalamu alaikum, and I said it back.  It was so cool because we could relate to each other.  It wasn't just that I was the odd one in the whole mall, so it was so cool.  It made [this] worth it. 

"Does wearing the hijab give you a stronger bond of sorts with Muslim women?" I asked as we climbed into my car after leaving the mall, feeling refreshed and exhilarated after Ali was able to meet the Muslim woman.

"It sounds really weird, but yeah," Ali replied, smiling widely.  "I was relieved whenever I saw her.  It was kind of like, 'Ahh, someone like me!'  I connected with her and she connected with me instantly, you know?  Not like, 'Oh, we're best friends,' but it was just kind of a bond.  [Earlier], I almost felt alienated.  I felt different, and I didn't connect with other people until I saw her." 

I stopped to think for a moment, turning on my car before backing out of the tiny parking spot.  "So do you think that maybe a Muslim girl wearing a hijab might feel alienated from normal people?"

Ali bobbed her head.  "I think in a way, yes, because people just stay away from you."

"But then I suppose that it would cause a closer relationship with fellow Muslims," I added.

"I think so.  It reminds me of the video we were watching on YouTube.  One of the ladies said, 'We need to give more credit to people.  They don't judge us.'  But I'm wearing the hijab.  I look Muslim.  People think I'm Muslim.  And it's hard.  I'm not being 'Christian' about it.  It's true.  The truth is that there [are] categories that people place you in, and [they] put up barriers, and that's what alienates Muslims."

At the mall, Ali was treated with more obvious prejudice and open stares than she was at the Christian bookstore we visited earlier.  She felt more humiliated and alienated from others.  However, there were a few people who treated her with kindness and equality, like the man at Dillards.  The highlight of the afternoon was meeting the sweet Muslim lady who greeted Ali with a wide smile.

After leaving the mall, Ali and I were lost in thought for a long time.  Prejudice doesn't have to be expressed through hateful comments.  It can be expressed through stares and by ignoring someone.  The worst moment was probably when everyone avoided the line at Sonic where Ali stood to get her ice cream.  My community has a long ways to go before prejudice is eradicated.  Ali and I learned so much after our experience.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What to Write to Your Sponsored Child

Do you sponsor a child?  If so, you've probably been urged to correspond with your child through letters.  When I visited Kenya, Africa through Christian Relief Fund, I was given the opportunity to see the excitement of sponsored children when they received letters from their sponsors.  Letters make kids feel valued and loved.  Your sponsored child is eager to hear from you.  You mean the world to them.  letter from sponsored jpgWriting letters is very important.

However, you might feel frustrated.  It can be hard to know exactly what to write to a child who lives across the world from you, a child you've never met before.  If you're not good at letter-writing in general, writing to your sponsored child might seem especially intimidating.

But hey, no worries.  Today I'll go ahead and list twenty topics that you can write about in your letters.  Be sure not to write about them all at once, especially if your child is young and won't be able to read long letters.  Remember that you're writing to a kid who might not even speak much English.


1. The Weather- Do you have different seasons where you live?  I often send Lavin- my sponsored child- pictures and descriptions of snow.  Where Lavin lives, it's either hot and dry or hot and rainy.  I talk about snow, sleet, wind, and the differences between summer, fall, winter, and spring.

2. Sports- What sports do you play?  What sports do you like to watch on television?  Remember that in foreign countries, different sports are called different names.  Lavin calls soccer futbol, so if I tell her my family watches football on TV, she might become confused.

3. Facts about your family- How many people are in your family?  What are your ages?  What do your parents (or you and your spouse) do for a living?  What do you call your grandparents?  How many of you live in one house?

4. Pets- In some countries, the idea of dogs and cats as pets might seem strange, but it can't hurt to talk about them.  Be sure to send pictures of your fuzzy friends.

5. Holidays- What holidays are you celebrating?  During the Christmas season, talk to your sponsored child about your family traditions.  Send a sketch/photograph of stockings on a fireplace or of your Christmas tree.  Try not to focus as much on the material gifts, but on the traditions themselves.  Explain to your child about Thanksgiving, Easter, 4th of July, and other fun holidays your family celebrates.

6. Daily Schedule- What is a day for you like?  Talk about what time you wake up, what you eat for breakfast, where you work, where you go, what you do...  Let your sponsored child feel like he is experiencing a day of your life with you.

7. School Subjects- If you're a student, write a list of the subjects you learn at school.  Your sponsored child might be curious to see what you're learning as well.  Try to keep things simple, like Mathematics instead of Trigonometry and English instead of Reading Comprehension.

PianoKeys-600x338.jpg8. Instruments you play- Music is a big part of most cultures.  Can you play the guitar?  Talk about your musical experience to your child.

9. Chores- As boring as this might sound to you, chores are something your child can understand.  Talk about common chores you have to do at home, like washing dishes or dusting.  Avoid talking about chores that involve modern technology, such as vacuuming.

10. Foods you eat- What is your favorite food?  Talk to your child about the foods you eat regularly and be sure to send pictures or drawings!  Believe it or not, but many children who live in third world countries have never heard of pizza or enchiladas.

11. Your best friends- Friends exist in every country.  Describe your best friends: what they look like, why you love them, what you do together.  Send a photograph of you and your friends.

12. Describe your garden/backyard- Talk about the trees and flowers you might have in your yard.  If you have a garden, then talk about the kind of vegetables you grow.  Many children in developing countries have their own gardens to care for, and they'll be able to relate to you.

13. Games- Tell your sponsored child about easy, little games you like to play (or liked to play as a little kid).  For example, tic-tac-toe, tag, hopscotch... all games that your child could understand and possibly even incorporate into her daily life.

14. Funny family stories- Did your little brother just stick his hand into the toilet?  Did your dad hide behind a door to scare your mom?  Share funny stories that are easy for children to comprehend.  Avoid telling actual jokes, as they can be difficult to understand in different cultures.

greeting-cards-600x400.jpg15. Vacation stories- Are you going out of town for a family vacation?  Tell your sponsored child where you are going.  Talk about the culture of the place you're going, what the weather is like, and what the scenery looks like.  Send a small souvenir from your vacation.  If you're going to a nice resort or somewhere fancy, be sure not to dwell on the material aspects of the trip.  Instead, talk about things your child will be able to relate to, like the flowers and language.

16. Hobbies- Do you love to write poems?  Write a poem for your child.  Do you collect buttons?  Do you love to read?  Are you obsessed with crossword puzzles?  Talk about your hobbies and quirks with your sponsored child.

17. Small, random facts about you- Share your favorite color, flower, number, your birthday, etc.

18. Words in your language- If your child doesn't speak English, make little flashcards with easy words in your language (such as dog, cat, please, thank you, hello, etc.) on one side and in their language on the other side.  Your actual letter will be translated into the child's language.

19. Bible verses- Share encouraging Bible verses that are easy for your child to understand, such as John 3:16 and Romans 8:28.  You could even share short Bible stories with illustrated pictures!

20. Lighthearted prayer requests- Sharing prayer requests is a way that you can make your child feel like he is doing something for you after all you've done for him.  Mutually praying for each other is also a great way to create a bond between you and your sponsored child.  Be sure not to give any big and scary prayer requests.  Your child will have enough worries in his own life.  Ask for prayer about acing a hard class at school, ministering to a friend of yours who isn't a Christian, or healing from a broken arm.


What do you and your sponsored child talk about?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Facing Prejudice: At Lifeway

My sister Ali and I decided to test the level of prejudice that exists in my small Texan city by dressing Ali up in a black hijab and visiting public places.  We chose to visit a Christian bookstore first because Ali and I are both Christians, and we wanted to see how fellow believers would treat someone of an opposite religion.  We decided to visit Lifeway Christian Store.

To be honest, Ali and I weren't quite sure how the store clerks would respond.  Would they ask Ali questions?  Would they P1000706.jpgcounsel her?  Would they be eager to show her around the store as an opportunity to be a witness?  We were fairly certain that the workers at the Christian bookstore would hold very little prejudice... I mean, the Bible teaches us to love everyone.  Why would there be prejudice in a store that sells Bibles?

For this experiment, Ali and I went together as friends, bumping shoulders and holding arms and talking quietly amongst ourselves like teenage friends would.  I wore a Christian t-shirt that said "Jesus Saves" boldly across the front.  Ali wore her black hijab.

When we first entered the Christian bookstore, smiling and acting as friendly and approachable as possible, no one approached us.  No one greeted us from the front desk, as is customary for stores like Lifeway.  No one asked us if we needed any help.  Ali received a few discreet stares from customers, which we expected.  After all, a Muslim girl walking into a Christian bookstore is a strange occurrence.  The looks weren't glares.  However, we received no smiles and no greetings from anyone at all.

As we entered the store, a young female worker walked in front of us.  We both lifted our heads and smiled at her, and I said, "Hi," but she nodded quickly at me and didn't even look at Ali once.  It was like the young woman was afraid to acknowledge Ali or even offer her a smile, for fear of how Ali would respond.

Ali and I meandered about the store for a little while, browsing through books for about six or seven minutes before a man finally walked up to us and asked me if we needed any assistance.  "Do you sell the Quest Study Bible?" I asked, quickly thinking of an opportunity to interact with a stranger.  The man nodded and led us to the Bible aisle, never once giving Ali a word or even a glance.  He completely ignored her.  He told me a little bit about the Bibles available and then walked away.

Ali and I were stunned.

You'd think that a Muslim girl walking into a Christian bookstore would be considered an excellent opportunity for Christians to witness or at least to act as positive examples for Jesus Christ, but absolutely no one would look at her.  She was completely ignored.

Later, when I asked Ali if anyone acknowledged her whatsoever, she replied, "There was one lady. She wasn't a worker- she was just a customer- and she actually smiled at me.  We were in there for about thirty [or] forty minutes, and she was the only person that smiled at me.  Isn't that sad?  That's sad."

After a few more minutes of skimming through the Bibles, I left Ali alone in that aisle and walked up to the front desk.  I asked if they carried "The Way of the Master" by Ray Comfort.  One of the female cashiers asked, "What's that about?"  The same man who had directed me to the Bibles earlier said, "It's an evangelical tool."  The look on the woman's face was priceless when she blurted, "Ohhhhhhhhh...." as if everything made more sense after that.

I finally decided to purchase "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan, and Ali went to the front desk with me, standing quietly at my side as I purchased the book.  "Do you need anything else?" the male cashier asked, looking only at me.

"No thank you," I replied.  The man said nothing else.

As Ali and I left the bookstore, still no one dared to look her in the eye or speak to her even once.

We piled into my car in stunned silence, shocked at the strange response we'd received from the workers at the bookstore.  Ali wasn't given dirty looks, but no one smiled at her.  I was treated kindly with smiles and words, but everyone seemed intimidated by Ali's presence, like she was an alien from a foreign planet who might bite if someone dared speak to her.

"[This] was very weird," Ali said after being asked about the experience. "People would avoid me, and whenever we talked to them- or whenever Emily [talked to them]- they just kind of talked to her.  Even though I was standing right beside her, they didn't really look at me.  It was just really strange; almost kind of disappointing because Lifeway's actually one of my favorite stores.  I thought they would have been more of a shining light for a Muslim girl like me."

"What was your overall impression of this experience?"

"[I'm] kind of disappointed," Ali replied, shrugging her shoulders sadly.  "And actually, to be completely honest, I think my reaction would probably be about the same.  I would be scared to talk to someone, you know, just because I don't want P1000709.jpgto offend them.  Maybe they just don't know [where] to draw the line.  But this is something that I will definitely use."

It's true.  Perhaps people avoid Muslim women entirely out of fear of seeming offensive or acting like they're staring, but feeling ignored can feel just as awful as feeling stared at, as Ali experienced while at Lifeway.  She told me, shaking her head with wonder, "When that lady smiled, I just felt like a regular person, which is really weird.  I think we just need to acknowledge different people more."

While I'm glad that Ali received no dirty looks while in Lifeway, I'm disappointed that she received only one smile from a customer, no greetings, and no kind words.  Jesus was an example to Christians when He spoke kindly to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  Jesus was a Jew, and Jews and Samaritans were total enemies, a lot like some Muslims and Christians are today.  However, Jesus was kind to the Samaritan woman.  He spoke to her and treated her with love and mercy, despite their differences.  We should use Jesus's actions as an example of how to treat those who are different and who believe different things than we do.

The biggest lesson I learned while visiting the Christian bookstore was that while I shouldn't openly stare at people who are dressed differently than I am, I need to be sure to smile at them and show kindness.  There's no better way to be an example for Christ than to act like a loving and kind friend to anyone and everyone.  I'll be sure to deliberately smile at everyone- including Muslims- from now on.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Mother's Love

I took this week's photograph while I was in Kenya, Africa in July of 2009.  It's actually one of my favorite pictures that I took over there.

6771_1204551072399_1187288064_625330_6242006_n.jpgThis was taken through the window of a VCT clinic.

I love the vivid colors in the photo.  The mother's dress is so beautiful, but so is the rich and beautiful shade of their skin.

Yes, the baby is crying.  He may have been ill, which was why they were in the waiting room of the clinic, or he could have easily been tired or hungry instead.

My favorite part of this picture is the look on the mother's face.  She's smiling at her child like she is so proud of him.  Even though he's crying, she is eager for me to photograph her child because she loves him so very much.  A mother's love is a beautiful thing and I'm so honored I was able to capture that in this picture.

I could look at this picture forever.  So lovely.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Q&A Day

Today I'll be answering ten more questions that some of my readers have asked me over the last year.  If this doesn't interest you, click out.  I won't be offended.  Like last time, I'll be asking you five questions at the bottom of this post.  I'd love to read your answers.


ReadingHow long have you been writing?
I've been writing for as long as I can remember.  The grandma of one of my childhood friends was talking to me a few weeks ago and asked, "Emily, do you still write?"  Writing is a talent and a passion that God has blessed me with since childhood.  I love it more than almost anything in the world.  Writing is my outlet.  It truly gives me joy.

Do you have anything published?
No, not yet.  I'm currently working on polishing a manuscript of a novel I wrote before I begin querying agents.  The novel, Before You, made the top five in an online contest at and was reviewed by HarperCollins, but they chose not to publish because of some faith issues I incorporated into the story, which I can understand.  I wrote a little mini-devotional book called Set Apart a couple years back.  It's available for you to buy in my Book Store, but I wouldn't even consider that "self published."  It's just a little something I wrote.  Maybe one day, if it's God's will, I will publish a book.

Can I find you on any other websites?
Yes!  I have two YouTube accounts: my music channel and my "for fun" channel.  You can find me on Inkpop and on Figment.  I have a rarely-used Twitter account as well.  I'm also a member of Susie Magazine's online community.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I don't know yet.  I'm a senior in high school right now and I'll be heading off to a university in the fall.  At this point in my life, I'd like to major in English and minor in Business, but this is very liable to change.

Do you read all of your comments?
Yes!  I love comments.  I tend to be insecure about posting the things I write online for everyone to see, so when I get an encouraging comment, it lights up my entire day.  I don't respond to a lot of comments I receive, unless they contain a question, but I read every single one.  If you've ever commented on my blog, I've read what you had to say.  And thank you.

AfricaYou mention traveling a lot. How many countries have you visited?
My parents have given me so many opportunities in my life.  I'm so grateful and so blessed.  I've actually been to eleven countries, including the one where I live.  I've visited: America, Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Holland, Kenya.  I've only been to the airports of Canada and Holland, but I've technically been inside of those countries, so that counts!... right? :)

Where and when do you write?
I tend to write best at night, but I write through weekend afternoons as well.  I like to write in my room, at my desk, alone.  If someone else is in the room with me, I struggle to concentrate.  I can't have any distractions.

You write a lot of artist and song reviews. What are your top five artists/bands?
I love music.  My number one favorite artist is Elvis Presley.  He's amazing.  After Elvis, I'm not really sure who my absolute favorites are, but I'll list some amazing artists/bands that I definitely recommend.  Group 1 Crew is the coolest band ever.  I adore Colbie Caillat's voice.  I've loved Superchic[k] for years and years and years.  B. Reith is also crazy good.

I have a problem with something you said in one of your posts. What should I do?
Tell me.  I appreciate criticism, so long as it's polite and constructive.  Feel free to disagree with something I said and comment with your opinion.  I don't appreciate hate comments that contain cuss words and derogatory phrases like "You suck!"  Those comments will be deleted.  If you stay polite and respectful, I would love to hear what you have to say, even if you disagree with me.

Will you write about ________?
Very possibly!  If you want me to write about a certain subject, request it in the comments.  I'm always looking for new ideas to write about.


Questions for You-
1. What are your New Year's resolutions?
2. Do you have anything published?
3. Who is your favorite artist/band?
4. What led you to find my blog?
5. If you could go anywhere, where in the world would you go?