United Nations Fourth Committee*

The Question of Western Sahara

October 2021

Petitioner:  Janet Lenz

Honorary Saharawi Citizen

I was introduced to the Saharawi people in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria in 1999.  To say that they have changed my life is an understatement.  What I have experienced firsthand with the people in the camps has made it impossible to move through my days without the echo of their lives and words being ever present.

As we sit here today, in a clean, comfortable room, discussing their future, the Saharawi are likely in their tents, appreciating the cool, evening air.  Or perhaps circled around a small fire under the stars, quietly sharing news or stories of the day over their sweet, hot tea.. 

As we sit here in comfortable chairs with climate-controlled air, they are likely in their tents, on the ground, hopefully finding a reprieve from the day’s heat.  It’s the “month of the flies” now…adding to the scene.

We sit here today discussing their future with clean, bottled water to sip. The Saharawi are quenching their thirst with water collected from a neighborhood container from which all the neighbors had dipped their buckets to carry back to their tents.  

We made our individual journeys to this building, riding in vehicles that were clean and comfortable…streets paved and well-marked.  In the camps, walking through the sands with worn, open sandals or old boots is tough.  If a vehicle is available, it is likely old, and coated with sandy dust inside and out, its passengers jolting along because the shock-absorbers wore out long ago.  

As we sit here today discussing the present and future of the Saharawi people, there is

an array of delicious food outside the doors of this room.  Each of us has the freedom to choose whatever we like.  There will be plenty available.  We have the money in our pockets to buy and eat.  For most of us, it’s a part of life that we rarely have to think about.  But in the camps, couscous, rice and beans are the usual.  It’s cheap and can make the long desert journey in trucks to the refugee camps. 

We sit here wearing clothes and shoes of our choice. . .able to change our outfits easily.   In the camps,  clothes are shared, and often come in containers from far away places where they’d already been worn.

We came here today of our own free will, from states, cities, and nations where we chose to live.  The Saharawi dream of and desperately long for their rightful, beloved homeland, where their memories were created for generations.  It’s where the stories of their parents, grandparents, and their own memories originated.  It’s where their history was written.  

But it’s been taken from them.

As we sit here today, discussing the future of the Saharawi people….the Saharawi nation, they long for a seemingly impossible dream:  The ability to live freely in their own homeland, where their history took place…the land from which their family stories were passed down;  their homeland by the sea, the memories, traditions, and their history.  The older generation remembers the smell of the sea, the same ocean waters that touch the shoreline of this city.

We sit in this room today discussing “The Question of Western Sahara.”  For every Saharawi on this planet, in their heart of hearts, there is no “Question”  about it.  

                                    ASK THEM!  Give them the promised Referendum.

The Gate

Jesus emphasized, 

“I can guarantee this truth: 

I am the gate for the sheep.”   

John 10:7, 9-10

When you have sheep, you KNOW that you’d better have a good gate.  And a good fence.   And a really good pair of running boots.  

When my son and daughter-in-law decided that they wanted to raise a flock of sheep, I was thrilled.  I’d always been fascinated with all the references to sheep in the Bible, and had studied the passages about sheep / shepherds  more than any other single topic.  I read books about it, taught Bible Studies on the subject, and felt a strong connection to the stories of both sheep and shepherds throughout my life.  

But I had never lived with sheep.   That fact has changed.

We chose the breed of sheep we wanted . . . “Baby-Doll” . . . and went to check out a local flock, hoping to buy 2 or 3.   A deal was struck, and a delivery date set.  As the date drew near, the seller decided to include the rest of her small flock . . . 4 ewes.  The day before the delivery, we learned from the seller that her one ram had apparently been visiting the ladies each weekend while the owner went to church. . . they were all now expecting lambs.   And it wasn’t long until those little lambs began appearing.

What alerted us to the arrivals in the middle of the night, was a phone call from our neighbor, who had awakened to the sound of coyotes howling in our field.   A lamb had been born, and rejected by it’s mother.  The cry of the little lamb had drawn almost 20 coyotes in the night, encircling the small pen in our field.  Their eyes glowing, they began howling and closing in on the tiny, bleating cry of the rejected lamb.  My son hurried out in the dark to the small shelter where the tiny, rejected lamb was crying.  Looking at the glowing eyes of the hungry coyotes closing in on the shelter was chilling.  A rifle in one arm and the tiny lamb in the other, he brought the fragile little black lamb to our house, where she stayed for several weeks until she could join the ever-growing flock of now 17 sheep.

We had not been prepared for the almost daily additions of tiny lambs.  The glowing eyes and chilling howls of the predators would have been the doom of the lambs if it weren’t for the “Gate” of my son’s presence with our small flock out in the field that night.   Not only did the sheep need that Gate to secure them safely inside the shelter, but the predators encircling the little flock had to be kept out.  The defenseless ewes and lambs would have surely been devoured.

Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, stands between us and the Enemy of our Souls who  prowls about us in the shadows of night. Jesus stands as the Gate of our souls. The fact of the matter is that our only true defense is our Good Shepherd, no matter how hard we work to create our own sense of safety.   That is His promise to us, His sheep.   

“I  Lub You”

My little 3-year-old Thaddeus often comes for a “‘nuggle” with these words.  He can’t say his “v’s” yet. Nor “S’s”.  We ‘big people’ would tend to want him to practice his “v’s” and “s’s”,  but I honestly wouldn’t want him to change a thing right now.  It’s his unique way of expressing his heart to me…for me.

Does our Father in Heaven have similar thoughts about our flawed but sincere expressions of our love for Him?  Does He require  well-enunciated, dignified words when we address Him as His child?

I think not.

OVERFLOW

“You received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live as Christ’s people. 

Sink your roots in him and build on him. 

Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, 

and overflow with thanksgiving.”      Col. 2:6-7

Can you remember an experience where something (or someone) ‘overflowed’ on you?  Maybe it was a good overflow . . . maybe it was a bad overflow.  Maybe you have overflowed at times.  Maybe you were able to enjoy the overflow.  Maybe you had to scramble to stop an overflow from creating damage (like when your upstairs overflowing tub starts creating a new design on your kitchen ceiling, only to find out that your kids thought it would be fun to cover up the overflow valve on the tub so they could scuba dive.)

Choosing to open our hearts to Christ Jesus begins a process that is meant to involve “overflow.” 

  • It begins with the personal choice to receive Him into my life. 
  • Then come the choices to live as His Own…as His person;
  • Sinking my “roots” into Him…going deeper by intention leads to
  • Building stronger . . . making Him your life’s solid Foundation;
  • He, with others along the way, teaches us things we did not know,
  • By which our faith is strengthened.
  • Then from that new Life growing within us comes a deep sense of gratitude…thanksgiving …. 
  • …To the One Who has Loved first.

I was 3 years old when I began to learn that Jesus loved me, and I opened my heart to Him.  That’s when it began for me, this life journey that has been filled with both the very good and the very bad.  I am so grateful that I had a foundational knowledge of the One Who loved me and has been with me throughout my whole life.  The words of this verse describe a life-long journey, with an outcome desperately needed by this world.

My hope and prayer is that those streams that have overflowed out of my life have left behind a touch of Jesus’ Presence. 

Just Because

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, 

because his mercy endures forever.”   

Psalm 136:1,26

“I lub you, Omi.”   Those words come daily from my 4-year-old grandson.  There isn’t any particular action that precedes his statement . . . it’s one of those “just because” reasons.  It always warms my heart to hear it.  It never gets “old.”  

I am quite sure that our Lord loves to hear those words coming from the hearts of His children.  No particular reason necessary, although the list is miles long.  

The Thanksgiving season is a good heart-primer for the coming Christmas holidays, when we will again focus on the Greatest Gift of all . . . Jesus coming to us.

In the midst of the chaos and challenges we face, may we often – spontaneously –  speak the simple words that mean so much to any parent’s heart:   “I love You.  Thank You.”

When the Future Seems Dim

‘‘I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. 

“They are plans for peace and not disaster, 

plans to give you a future filled with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

I was just a teenager when this verse first jumped off the page for me.  I was depressed, although that was not clear to me at the time.  I remember feeling hopeless, and deeply sad.  For many reasons, I could not see a future.  I could not picture myself in the future.

But I did know that God was near me.  I knew that He saw my sadness.  I knew that I could cry and feel hopeless, and that He cared for me.  I had first asked Him to “come into my heart”  when I was 3 years old, and my simple faith began at that moment.  I never feared that He would leave me.  I struggled with many, many fears along my life’s path, but the one constant Truth that I could hold tightly was that He was there.

Looking back on the Path along which He has led me, I never had any doubt that He was near…walking with me, watching over me, gently guiding my steps.  Many times, I did not want to walk the Path, as it was too scary . . . too painful . . . too lonely . . . and at times too dark.  Yet I knew absolutely that He was there.  He was with me.   He wasn’t fixing everything.  He wasn’t parting the clouds and shining His Light for me to see or understand all that was surrounding me.  But I knew that He was with me.  That simple truth was what I could hold on to.

God’s message through Jeremiah is simple, but oh, so powerful.  No matter what tomorrow holds, no matter what sadness is surrounding our days. . . our hearts, He is carrying out His Plan in each of our lives.   

Would I have ever imagined that I would be a widow. . . that I would be without the church I had helped birth and build beside my husband for most of my adult life?  No.  This part of my journey has been very difficult and painful.   

But I also have to ask myself, would I have ever imagined that I would be the grandmother of 12 loving, delightful children, the mother of three wonderful, wise, loving sons and the beautiful (inside and out) wives they chose  . . . lovingly raising “the 12.”  

And would I have ever imagined being deeply involved with a Muslim nation that has welcomed the Good News of Jesus.  No, I would have never imagined such a thing.  

Though I would not have written the Story of my life that has unfolded, I can have Peace of mind and heart knowing that His Plans for me have truly been best.

Growing Love

“I pray that your love will keep on growing because of your knowledge and insight. 

That way you will be able to determine what is best and be pure and blameless 

until the day of Christ.”

Philippians 1:9-10

I’m sitting in a corner of a beautiful old New York hotel lobby, having completed my “petition” to the United Nation’s Fourth Committee, which has been involved with the long-time tragedy of the desert people I love so much.. . the Saharawi.  Each year, people with “inside” knowledge can come and speak of what they have experienced, and ask on the Saharawi’s  behalf for a just solution.  

It is always an emotionally troubling experience, and does not get easier for me.  Often I have to listen to words that I know come from scripted speeches that have little to do with truth.  My first time here, many years ago now, I remember wanting to pick up my chair and throw it at some folks who had never even been in the refugee camps, yet spoke scathing lies of the camps.  

Over the years, I have much less of those intense emotions.  Somehow, knowing what is true, and knowing that God loves my desert people far more than I can, has helped me to look to Him more, trust Him more, and entrust Him more with them.   

Looking at Jesus’ example while He walked the earth, seeing, experiencing, and tasting of the human experience we all share, His consistent choice was to love.  When He spoke, it was loving, even when “love” included uncomfortable Truth and corrections.  The Example that He lived out in our world is for us to follow.  His actions,  and reactions help us to check our own.

This morning, I went into one of those fantastically yummy New York Bakery/Cafe’s, and ordered coffee and a pastry I never heard of before.  (It was amazing.)  But out of the window, I saw a man on the corner who I recognized from the UN group to which I give testimony about the Saharawi people.  I (uncharacteristically) left my spot and shot out the door to greet him.  First, I interrupted something he was typing on his phone, then I startled him with my forwardness.  Then I greeted him with a familiar Saharawi phrase.  I was kind of proud of myself for my courage to initiate a little interchange.   Well…. He was not of the Saharawi of the camps.  He was from “the other side” of the conflict.  The “enemy.”  After his startled expression, he said I had mistaken him, but with a chuckle.  He said, “Thank you.”  I said, “Sorry!” and ran back to my vacated chair inside.  

Well, that hadn’t gone as I had expected, but I had accidentally made a friendly gesture to an “enemy” of my people and I felt good about it.  Sheepish, but good.  

And the next time, I think it will be easier.  

The Double-Take

“Let us look only to Jesus.”

Hebrews 12:2

This morning, I went into the lambs’ pasture to spend a bit of time with them.   They were in their usual morning routine of finding cozy little spots clustered together under trees and shady places beside stacks of logs.  A few would lift their heads to note my presence, but quickly returned to their napping.

But my little Easter-lamb was munching away on some grass away from the rest.  She lifted her head and caught sight of me.  She actually did a “double-take”.  Then she did her “Baaa-aaa” of greeting and returned to her munching.  I chuckled at her double-take….I had never seen that before and it warmed my heart to know she recognized me and called out her little greeting.  It was sweet.   I didn’t need her to run over or change what she was doing.  Her simple greeting…the little double-take…was enough to brighten my day.

And I wondered….do I make God smile when, in the midst of my “normal”, I glimpse His Presence – “see Him” – and acknowledge Him with a simple thought or word?  Does it bring Him a touch of joy in the moment?   My Good Shepherd has His Eye on me, whether I notice or not.  But the notice . . . a simple, pure reaction of seeing Him in my normal day, I do believe matters to Him.  His Eye is on me . . . on you . . . every moment of every day.  

I want to be that lamb that notices and recognizes His Presence in my “normal.”  I want to give Him moments of Joy.  I want to make Him smile.  

May I often “double-take” with Him.

Show and Tell

“Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn away from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

I currently live in a home with 4 children, ages 8 months to 7 years…(and their parents, Thank God!)  LOTS of activity….lots of interactions….lots of activity (did I say that already???)   They’re all at different levels of understanding, temperament, and focus capabilities.   They’re also home-schooled, so there’s a lot of teaching and learning going on.   Hopefully.

My grandchildren are actively learning educationally.  Books, activities, games, and physical experiences.  They are learning things that will benefit them on many levels for the rest of their lives.

But this verse in Proverbs is not so much focused on intellectual learning.  Training is very inter-active in nature . . . not so much in intellectual information, but in life skills that will carry them throughout all that LIFE will bring their way.   No easy answers, no clear equations, not book learning.  Training requires active engagement, where both the trainer and the trainee are working together.  It’s “Do what I do…” stuff that will stick with them throughout their lives.

Years ago, I had an interpreting job that was, thankfully, a one-time-only job.  I had to interpret a welding job training to a deaf young man.  All the pre-training of information had been done in the classroom.  Now it was “hands-on” time.  He, his trainer, and I had our welding equipment on, and it was time to actually weld.   “One…two…three….masks down.” 

Instantly, we were all in the dark. The mask had a blackened shield to block out the searing welding flame.  But without being able to hear and see the trainer, the training quickly turned into laughter as the deaf man and I realized that we could not see each other at all.  No lip-reading possible.  No sign language visible.  We were all in the dark….literally.  The trainer was talking and doing his training, I could hear him, but the deaf young man could neither hear or see the trainer’s words, nor my hands signing to him.  I couldn’t even see him!  Needless to say, no hands-on training took place that day!   But we all had a good laugh.

Essential to training is the full experience of seeing, understanding, gaining the necessary knowledge, and watching it lived-out by the trainer.  It’s not normally a “one time” training. Repetition is essential.  And the success of the training depends on how we have conveyed the message in ways that will be most easily absorbed by those watching and learning from our lives. 

What are we living out to our children . . . grandchildren  . . . as well as the Believers in our lives?   Learning through Book knowledge, or through verbal information is important.   But actively living out the realities of following Christ in our daily lives is how those who are watching will best see, absorb, and learn.  

Anyone who has chosen to follow Christ steps into an instant “trainer” role, whether intentional or not.   We become one of His own.  And as our world watches, we begin to “train” through our very lives, every day, 24/7.  

So . . . what are those close to you learning from your life?

      

Sweet Rest

“You will feel confident because there’s hope, 

and you will look around 

and rest in safety.”

Job 11:18

This morning I had a truly precious experience.  God has been giving me glimpses of what it means to be one of His Own, using children and sheep as His primary “visual aids.”

I had made my daily morning trek out to the sheep pasture.  In the past six months it’s become a very sweet venue for God to speak to my heart.  Experiencing real sheep in a real pasture was never in my plan, but it was apparently in God’s Plan for this chapter of my life.

Maneuvering through the fence of the sheep’s field, I was greeted as usual by the two little orphaned and abandoned lambs for whom I’ve helped care since they were born.  I headed to a rickety old wooden “spool” I use as a table, and set up my weathered old chair.  Taking out my notepad and pen, I was interrupted by Easter and Autumn calling their “Maaaa’s” as they headed to my humble ‘writing table.’  One on each side of me, they nudged my legs, waiting for me to scratch their soft ears and wooly faces.  

Trying to focus on thoughts toward my Good Shepherd, I was being interrupted by the insistent nudges of the two lambs on each side of me.  Finally, I laid down my pen and just focused on scratching the two sweet faces resting their heads on my knees.  As I rubbed their wooly faces, I surveyed the scene that surrounded me: large mama sheep munching grass, and then lying down in a tangled pile of old logs, ewes, branches and lambs. Birds, butterflies, and flowers  

drew my attention as I rubbed the soft heads.

Then, I heard a new, quiet sound beside me.  Easter had fallen asleep with her furry head resting on my knee as I scratched her nubby neck and head.  Standing, she was leaning into me, her dark brown eyes closed. She was asleep.  

That simple, touching moment caught my heart and I sensed a Whisper of my name from my Good Shepherd.  He was near.  He was with me.  No words necessary.  My soul could be at rest with that.