Becoming the Teacher

by Bethany Dudley
Overwhelmed: This is what many refugees feel as they try and understand the new culture they are in. When you are new to a country you are continually in the role of student, having to relearn everything from how to dress for the weather to how to cook. Constantly being in the student role can be draining, frustrating and sometimes humiliating.

These are common feelings amongst the Napoli and Burmese refugees in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Recognizing this, Neighbors United for New Possibilities has asked the Napoli and Burmese refugees to join with them in their community garden. The local high school has donated some land in front of the school to be used for a community garden to grow not only flowers, but produce as well.

AmeriCorps worker Lindsey Verkaik has been developing relationships with local members of the community and NPO groups to develop this garden. Lindsey told me a story about working in the garden on Saturday saying, “I was talking to one of the Catholic Social Services volunteers and they shared that for the refugees this is a chance for them to do something that comes naturally to them as well as a time when they can teach instead of being taught. It was rewarding and pride-building for them to teach someone else and therapeutic to be doing something that they are good at. For us it was great because each time we plant they teach us something new!”

Relationships are growing along with the plants in this garden as the refugees are able to teach the other residents, both young and old, about gardening. The fruit of this harvest will be plentiful!

Dealing with the Darkness

It has been a turbulent 2009 so far. I have probably reached the lowest points in the last six months since I came to Solidarity. I have questioned my purpose, the effect I am having on neighborhood and even God Himself.

Towards the beginning of the year, the drama seemed to be unceasing when it came to L, V and D, three of my teenage friends from Garnet. D, 17, was embarking on her first months of pregnancy when she found out she had an STD. V, 15, was struggling to decide if she should marry her 19 year-old boyfriend and father of her baby in order to reduce his sentencing, since he was in jail for impregnating her, a minor. L, 16, was kicked out of her boyfriend’s house with no family who wanted to take her and her baby in. I have been “mentoring” these girls for 3.5 years. Why aren’t their lives perfect? Why does it seem that the more time I spend with them, the more darkness I see?

As I was contemplating these questions, God spoke words of comfort and blessing to me. He told me,  “Bethany, the darkness has always been there. The closer you get to these girls, the more darkness you will see.” I am not encountering more darkness because I am a bad mentor, but because my relationship with these girls is deepening. The more time I spend with them, the more they let me in, so the more I will see. With this realization came an intense feeling of freedom. I was reminded that I am not the Savior. My responsibility is to love them as best I can and God has to do the rest.

A funny thing happened when I let God carry my burden; He showed up, huge. L, for the first time, acknowledged the chaos of her life and the undeniable need for Jesus to be her Lord. D began texting me every Sunday asking if I would taker her to church. V recommitted her life to Christ and stepped up as leader in Solidarity’s Youth Church. These girls are not perfect and their lives are far from it as well, but there is movement away from the darkness. God is good.

Bethany Rowe, Solidarity Program Director

For more on Solidarity visit their website:

www.solidarityrising.org

Of Homeless and Hummingbirds

Lately, several homeless neighbors who come to the weekly Homeless Outreach on Saturday mornings have been hanging out in the parking lot after they get their showers and before breakfast starts to enjoy some fresh air. In the interest of building relationships with these men I decided that I would get some fresh air too.

Lately, several homeless neighbors who come to the weekly Homeless Outreach on Saturday mornings have been hanging out in the parking lot after they get their showers and before breakfast starts to enjoy some fresh air. In the interest of building relationships with these men I decided that I would get some fresh air too.

Last Saturday I noticed that Jerry (name changed), one of our homeless neighbors who lives in his late 90′s model Lexus, was pacing methodically in the corner of the parking lot.

“Mind if I walk a few paces with you?” I asked.

“Sure,” Jerry shrugged.

As we walked our circuit we talked about his diabetes, about his interest in science fiction (he reads at least three books each week) and about how he walks these paces each morning “to get the blood flowing.”

After walking and talking for several minutes I noticed what looked like a small green walnut, and after looking closer I realized it was a baby hummingbird that had fallen from it’s nest and was sitting there in the parking lot scared and helpless.

“What should we do?” I asked Jerry.

“Not much we can do. My dad told me once, you can’t save everything,” Jerry responded, as he resumed his pacing.

As I stayed behind looking at this vulnerable bird, I wondered what to do. “He’s probably right,” I thought. Just then, Jaquie pulled into the parking lot. She works for the County as an animal control officer and she came over right away. She picked up the bird and in moments had whisked it away to her home where she would feed it and care for it until she could bring it to a hummingbird rescue the next day. She called me later that week to tell me that she had been successful in getting the little bird a place in the rescue where the staff would feed it every 20 minutes for several days until it was strong enough to survive on it’s own.

When I first started working with our homeless neighbors I was hopeful about our ability to help everyone we met. Then after a few disappointing experiences with neighbors who made “one step forward and three steps back” I noticed that I began to operate with a degree of cynicism. I would like to call this “informed discernment,” but I sometime use the “you can’t save every[one]“line as a rationale for my increasing emotional distance from my neighbors.

That cynicism is challenged each time a new volunteer joins our ranks. Just like Jaquie came and helped me see that we could indeed help the hummingbird, new volunteers come with new skill sets and new hope that inspire me past my hopelessness.

I realize that while I cannot save everyone, God’s body, with its diverse gifts and ever growing faith can indeed help everyone, even if it is simply to minister hope through relationships.

Ryan VerWys

For more information on Kingdom Causes: Bellflower visit their website:

www.kingdomcauses.org 

Depth of Good Soil

Many of our neighbors in Bellflower who are economically disadvantaged or homeless do not have work.  Some of these neighbors have gaps in their resumes which makes finding employment a challenge.  Good Soil Industries (GSI) will help potentially hundreds of individuals and families who are unemployed to find work and gain self sufficiency.

GSI is a non-profit temporary employment and landscaping agency that empowers economically disadvantaged and homeless individuals through work and discipleship.

Good Soil Industries has been busy, and that is a good thing! Cory (Good Soil employee) and I have spent many hours together, and seen each other at our best and worst moments. Yesterday was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right. At the end of the day Cory told me, “I’m always watching you. Watching how you respond.”

I thought, “uh-oh.”

Then Cory went on to bless me and share how he saw Christ in how I responded.

But it isn’t a one-way blessing. I’ve learned so much from Cory. He’s taught me to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit in a new way. To pray with a child-like faith. We have seen each other’s strengths and weaknesses and encouraged one another.

Good Soil has mowed a lot of yards recently. But more than that, it has brought two guys together whose life stories are pretty different. And out of this relationship, we’re both more hopeful that transformation is possible.

Joel Holwerda

Click here for a video about Cory.

For more information on Good Soil Industries go to their website by clicking here.

For more information on Kingdom Causes go to their website: www.kingdomcauses.org

 

How Far Does Compassion Go?

The other day my friend asked, “Can I have a hug?” The vulnerability of the request took me off guard. Some days you need to be squeezed. I thought of this as I got ready to visit another friend in jail. I wondered what it is like to go for years without a hug. My friend is facing 25 years to life. 25 years without feeling rain, without smelling flowers. 25 years without a friend wrapping their arms around you and holding you tight. I can’t imagine. It seems so harsh.

Then I snapped out of my compassion and remembered that he is a criminal. He did something to be in jail. He shot at someone. Perhaps my compassion is misdirected. Would I be as compassionate if my friend had been shot at?

Perhaps my compassion springs out of witnessing the arbitrary, seemingly unjust system my friend is entangled in. There are some people who murdered and got seven years. Then there is my friend, who shot a gun but hit no one. No one was hurt and he is looking at 25 years to life. It doesn’t look like justice to me.

As I struggle with this tension of how far my compassion should go for criminals, I reflect on the scriptures. In Matthew 25:36 Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to visit Me.” This passage teaches that in visiting prisoners we are serving Christ. It even uses visiting prisoners as one standard by which Christ will judge who his followers are.  Nothing is mentioned as to if the prisoners are guilty or which Christ will judge who his followers are. Nothing is mentioned as to if the prisoners are guilty or not.

I am struck too by one of Christ’s final acts- to forgive a guilty, convicted criminal on the cross. It was clear that he was guilty and yet Christ had compassion on him. So maybe I’m not that far off. Maybe compassion does not have to make sense. Forgiveness is not logical. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.

So how far does compassion go?

Crissy Brooks

For more from Crissy Brooks go to:

http://www.conversantlife.com/blogs/crissy+brooks

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