Que Dramatico!

“Why do you have to be so dramatic!”  I thought as I rolled my eyes.   The speaker was telling stories of immigration officers pounding down doors and ripping mothers away from their children, of fathers leaving for work and being deported, never to say good bye.  It all seemed so extreme.  Maybe there were a few cases like that but, come on!  This is the United States of America.  We have order and compassion.  Let’s not be dramatic in our case studies.  Maybe you have thought the same things.  This is what I thought until it started happening in my neighborhood.

Lately our ministry gets more calls asking for help to find relatives that have been detained or deported.  Last week a mother called crying.  She was hiding in her closet with her four children, afraid to open the door to the immigration officers outside.  “We have never had any problems with the law before,” she cried, as my mind raced to know how to advise her.  “I don’t know why they have come.”  Clearly the immigration agents have a reason and right to ask her for her documents.  She has been in the US for seventeen years.  Her four children were born here.  Her husband was at work.  She stayed in the closet until they left.  What would you do?

What will we do?  Maybe you are rolling your eyes, thinking, “how dramatic!” but the fact of the matter is that the same scene could have played out this morning for your children’s schoolmates or one of your acquaintances.  Chances are that at some point throughout your day, you encountered a neighbor who does not have legal documents to be in this country.  There are around 12 million people in that situation in our country and knocking on their doors while they hide in the closet is not an effective nor American way to deal with the situation we find ourselves in.

There are many reasons that people do not have legal documents.  The system for obtaining documents is completely broken and we must come up with a way for people to literally come out of their closets and participate in legal ways in our society.  It is not safe for us to have neighbors driving around with no licenses or insurance.  It is not fair to workers for undocumented laborers to be working without paying taxes.  And it does not represent our best values to have neighbors who do work hard and contribute to our community be terrified to walk out the front door every morning.  This is the land of the free.

So what will we do to solve the situation?  Yesterday Representative Gutierrez introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for American’s Safety and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP).  It is a step toward looking at workable solutions that support our values of freedom and hard work.  Not everyone supports it.  Some say it is too dramatic.  As of right now there are no Republicans co sponsoring the bill.  But it is a conversation starter.  It is a solution oriented bill to move us forward as a nation.  Anne Lamott says to write “sh**** first drafts”.  Write something; get started.  This bill is a start- a first draft that we can examine and pour over and edit until we design a piece of legislation that will give some clear steps for undocumented immigrants to take so that they can earn a rightful place in our neighborhoods, workplaces and country.

The next time a neighbor calls I want to be able to say, “This is what you need to do- step 1, step 2, step 3…”.  No more hiding for any of us.  Let’s solve this thing together.

Crissy Brooks, Mika CDC, Costa Mesa


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Why Rejoice About Tearing Families Apart?

I heard about the police sting on the day laborers almost instantaneously. One of my neighbor’s boyfriends was in the group that was picked up on 17th Street. I thought it was too bad but there wasn’t much I could do. He was, in fact, here undocumented.

Then more and more women began calling me saying their husbands had been taken, too. By Monday, I had six out of the 11 families whose husbands were arrested asking me for help. The rent is due this week and there was the immediate pressure of where to come up with the money now that their spouses weren’t here or in a position to provide for them.

Our organization, Mika Community Development Corp., doesn’t deal much with relief work. The whole premise of our ministry is to equip leaders to take responsibility for their community. I buy into the idea that if you point out opportunities and open up space for people to work and lead, then they will step into that role and be successful. I believe it is more beneficial for the whole community and affirms the dignity of the individual to offer work instead of hand outs.

As I sat in my office surrounded by these suddenly single moms listing what they needed to get through the week, I was perplexed by the fact that 72 hours earlier these women and their husbands were self reliant. They were formulating a plan to pay the rent.

Now, in order to show men that they have to be responsible for their actions, we have deported them, and the burden of care for their families is on the community. Churches, individuals and companies have pitched in to make up the short fall in rent for this week. As generous as this is, it’s just a short-term solution. Now the hard work starts of mapping out a long-term plan for these women and their children.

Of course I could do nothing. I could “let the market take care of itself.” And I’m starting to think this might be the best solution. I hear this admonishment often in the news and in our own city policy discussions –- this idea that if you open up economic opportunity it will either succeed or fail based on the demand for the product.

The more I reflect on the immigration situation the more I hear this phrase in my head. I keep trying to figure out how we got into this situation in the first place. At the risk of making a very complicated situation too simplistic, I think it goes back to us as a nation, trusting the market’s ability to take care of itself more than our laws.

The economic opportunity was so great in the last few decades that our systems couldn’t keep up. There weren’t enough visas for the amount of foreign workers we needed to keep up with the economy so we found ways outside the law to keep it going.

Then we changed our minds. We decided that enough is enough and now we want to enforce these laws. So we’re cracking down. The market has failed us. We are afraid there’s not enough for everyone and so we’re back to trusting in the law. In the mean time there are millions of people caught between our invitation into opportunity and our crackdown with the law.

So I cannot do nothing. These millions of people have become our neighbors and coworkers and friends and those who serve us in many capacities. I can’t do nothing because my faith as a Christian requires justice and mercy. Some say it was justice for the 11 day laborers to be deported. Now it is mercy that must follow through on the ramifications of those men being removed from our community and their families.

Several of my fellow Costa Mesans commented on the Daily Pilot story about the police bust using language of celebration and rejoicing. While I disagree with the reasoning, I can understand the support of the police actions.

What I cannot understand is those who rejoice in the fact that our neighbors’ families have been torn apart. Children are literally crying for their fathers, and mothers are scrambling to get by. You can say they brought it on themselves but why would you celebrate that kind of pain?

I have cried a lot this week. I cried with the women who don’t know how they will provide for their families. I cried with the men as I sat in a hotel room in Tijuana explaining that the church in Costa Mesa is standing with them and their families. But mostly I’ve cried alone in my car wondering how we became a city that tears families apart on purpose and then rejoices about it.

Crissy Brooks

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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

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Another Crazy Making Irony

We say it’s a “Win-Win”- those situations where each party involved benefits. As cheesy as the term sounds sometimes, it is nice when things work out well for everyone. I heard of a potential “win-win” a couple of weeks ago when one of my neighbors asked me to look over some paperwork.

My neighbor has been working as a Nurses Assistant at a convalescent home for 21 years. He makes $10.63 an hour and works full time. He has been in the process of getting his permanent residence status. He has paid a few thousand dollars in legal fees and gone through all the steps. He is in the homestretch.

What he needs to seal the deal is a paper signed by a “potential’ employer stating that they will hire him once he has his papers. It seems fairly simple considering that he has been working under the radar at this company for two decades. I imagined that his boss would gladly sign the paper and congratulate my neighbor on becoming legal and thank him for his years of service doing the dirtiest jobs in the hospital.

Here it comes- the crazy making part: The supervisor won’t sign the paper! But it’s a “win-win”- you get a legal employee, he gets to walk proud, free of fear. Yeah, no.

In my naïveté I am always sure there is a way to make things happen. I offered to go with my neighbor to plead with his supervisor. I offered to threaten him with phone calls to the immigration authorities. I coached my neighbor to have his lawyer call on his behalf. We racked our brains.

Now the deadline has come and gone with no signature. My neighbor will have to begin the process again- spending years and resources on one more try.

What is the fear that keeps us from helping? What is the pride that let’s us play with others’ futures? What did the employer have to gain by not signing the paper?

Crissy Brooks

For more information on MIKA Community Development Corporation click here.

Crazy Making Ironies

Sometimes things can get so nutty! A couple of years ago our city council passed an ordinance that placed a Federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent in our city jail. So now anyone who is picked up by the police is screened by an ICE agent. You don’t have to be convicted or guilty of anything, just brought in for whatever reason and you are screened for documentation.

A couple months back a friend of mine refused to sleep with her abusive ex-husband when he brought the rent over. He got angry. She got scared and threw a plate at him. When the police got there he was bleeding and she wasn’t so they took her away as the aggressor. It didn’t seem to matter that he had a history of domestic violence. So my friend spent the night in jail. There were no charges brought against her and the case was dropped.

Except then she was on an immigration hold after having been processed through our city jail. So now she is in the process of being deported, in which case her three American citizen children will be left in the custody of their abusive father or child protective services.

That all seems pretty straight forward and some would even say it is fair. Technically, the law played out (whether or not it is a just law is another question). Here’s where it gets nutty…

While our team is trying to get an immigration lawyer on the case I get a phone call from one of our city council members who was a strong proponent of placing the ICE agent in the jail. She is calling to say that she would like to recognize our organization at the next city council meeting with a Proclamation of our valuable community work.

The thing is that the woman in the process of being deported is the main force behind our “valuable community work.” She rallied the neighbors to open the community center. She is the one who pulls people together to support a neighbor in need. She is the main idea woman behind our community seminars and programs.

So I went to the city council meeting to receive an award for my friend’s work in the community that she is simultaneously being removed from by the same council’s policy.

I don’t know whether to laugh or scream my head off. Isn’t it confusing to celebrate one’s work on one hand and then condemn them on the other? It’s too nutty. It’s too real.

Crissy Brooks

For more information on MIKA Community Development Corporation click here.

Marriage Turn Around

Yesterday a couple who went through the, Healthy Marriage class shared their story with me. The week we started the classes at Baker, they were planning on splitting up and going their own ways (leaving of course behind a small child). They got a flyer from Mika about the marriage classes that very same day they were fighting and planning to divorce.
They thought for a moment and decided that they would make attending this couples seminar their last effort. Four weeks went by, they successfully finished the classes and after they saw a big improvement in their relationship. They later decided to attend the El Camino Church adjacent to Harbor Trinity Church, where the class was held.

Finally two weeks ago, they came to the conclusion that they both needed Jesus in their lives and now they’re so happy and are planning to be baptized soon.

Walter Garcia

Visit MIKA Community Development Corporation’s website by clicking here.

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The Right Tool

“Get the right tool,” my dad would often yell when I used the back of a screwdriver as a hammer or my nails as tweezers.  It was easy for him to say. He had a whole garage full of tools. I was just grabbing for whatever was closest and quickest to get the job done.

Last night when I pulled into my carport I was assaulted by the most vulgar graffitti covering the whole wall in front of me. The kids upstairs have been a problem in the neighborhood for a while. Everybody has been complaining about them. I haven’t seen an adult come or go from the apartment in weeks. Last night it became clear that I couldn’t put off a conversation with them any longer.

I hauled myself up the stairs, stepped over the make shift dog gate, and entered the living room filled with two bunkbeds and the backseat of a mini van acting as a sofa. Five teenagers stared at me as I sat down on the “couch”, a dog on each side of me. “Who’s going to paint downstairs and when?,” I said, skipping over any chit chat.

“It wasn’t us,” one of the girls said.

“I didn’t ask if it was you. I asked when you were going to paint it,” I explained. I really didn’t think that they had done it, but it had to be one of their friends that come and go all night long.

“Let’s just paint it now,” the oldest guy said. “I’ll go buy rollers at the 99 cent store.”  He got on his bike and left.

At this point I was pretty surprised. I thought there was going to be more of a fight. I went downstairs to get paint and by the time I got back two of them were standing in the garage with rollers, ready to go. As they painted they began to tell me about themselves, about their family, and their mom being gone all the time. They told me about the kids who did the graffiti and the changes they would like to make. When they finished the garage they went over to the outside wall and started painting over the gang tagging there. They seemed to enjoy the work and sharing about themselves.

As I stood there watching them happily paint, I thought of the focus we place on equipping people in our ministry (www.mikacdc.org). I thought about my dad saying, “Get the right tool.” Here before me I saw how the right tool was bringing out the best in my neighbors. In a simple way, being asked to take responsibility triggered them into action. They were physically equipped with the right tools, but I saw too that they had it in them to do something good, they just needed an opportunity. I wondered if anyone had ever asked them to take responsibility for their building or our community. Chap Clark’s book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers came to mind.

Clark asserts that adults have abandoned teens, that we have left them to raise themselves. The two painters in front of me seemed to be a glaring example of this. My first idea was to tell them to paint and leave them to figure it out but when the oldest so eagerly rode off to buy rollers, it made me want to get together the rest of the equipment and stick around. And now after our visit I want to stick around more.

Maybe there will be other opportunities to work together or get to know each other. It is convicting to see my own ability to judge and become the cranky lady downstairs. Last night my neighbors gave me a chance to reconsider my view of them. They took my reprimand as an invitation and let me into a sliver of their world. Perhaps we can continue equipping each other with the right tools for loving our community.

Crissy Brooks

For more information on MIKA Community Development Corporation click here.

View the MIKA CDC blog by clicking here.

Wrapping, Tea and Apples

One incredible part of my job is that I am often a bridge or link. At Christmastime that usually means that I am the connection between those that have the gifts and those that need the gifts. The best way that our community has figured out to bridge this is through The Christmas Store. Those that have the gifts bring them to one location that we set up like a store. Those that need the gifts are invited to come and shop, to pick out the gifts that they want to give their family. There is music and crafts for the kids and volunteers gift wrapping. It is a great day for our community.

It wasn’t always like that though. The first two years were a lesson in putting others first and learning to serve one another. There was jealousy among neighbors and sneakiness and tricks to get the best stuff. One year we even had a full blown fist fight. This year instead of trying to serve our neighbors, we brought them in as partners. Neighborhood leaders were on the planning committee. They had lots of feedback and suggestions from years past. They worked for three months setting up processes, selecting families, and developing systems that were fair and honoring. We had a vision of what we wanted the Christmas Store to look like and we worked toward it together.

We saw the vision realized: 100-ish volunteers, 23 bags of trash, 18 shopping shifts, 6 churches, 4 business sponsors, 1 giant wreath and 102 happy families carrying gifts home. It worked. It worked better because we did it together- start to finish.

In the morning we all took our places, church volunteers, neighborhood leaders and staff. I went to greet one of our neighborhood leaders in the wrapping department. She told me how beautiful the store looked and we chatted. Then she grabbed my shoulders and with tears in her eyes told me that her son was deported last night. He will not be with them for Christmas. “What are you doing here, I exclaimed?” “I came to serve my neighbors,” she said as someone plopped a gift down in front of her. She pulled the paper over and began wrapping. As I watched her I realized that The Christmas Store is a gift in many ways. This year her gift was not in getting the presents but in having the opportunity to serve others. In her own pain, it was better to have a way to reach out, then to be sitting at home with her grief. She was glad to be there.

We often say it is better to give than to receive, yet we always want to have the best gift- the giving gift. If the saying is really true, then we are giving a gift when we invite others to give. Giving the opportunity to give can be the most needed gift. My neighbor felt better knowing that she had something to offer besides her grief and need.

In all our planning and running around I had to drop a check off with another neighbor. It was a joint effort to pay her rent this month and a couple of donors had come through. I wanted to get the check to her on time but I was in a hurry. So much so that I called as I pulled up and asked her to come out to the car to meet me. As I pulled in I saw her rushing out with a pink mug and an apple. “Here”, she said, “I know you’re running around. You’ll need some food.” She handed me some hot tea and the apple. I knew that she had nothing and yet wanted to give something. On that day, at that hurried moment; hot tea and an apple were exactly what I needed. I received them gratefully and saw her joy when she realized that I really did want them. I devoured the apple as we chatted and left with my pink mug and grateful heart.

It is a privilege for me to play a part in giving to others and I am finding a deep contentment in recognizing my need for my neighbors. There is a great harmony is mutuality and our need for each other. They give me gifts I didn’t even know I needed and I hope that in graciously receiving, I am giving them a gift as well.

Crissy Brooks
Crissy Brooks is the executive director of MIKA Community Development Corporation. To learn more about MIKA visit their website by clicking here.

Click here to view Crissy’s Blog.

Building a Community of Vision

Mika Community Development Corporation is an Eleazar Partnership ministry partner in Costa Mesa, California. We partner  with local churches to build communities of VISION where neighbors have V-vision, I-interdependent relationships with God and others, S-servant leadership, I-impact, O-organization, N-networks.  We accomplish this through our community building and youth development strategies.  The following story is one example of how we are seeing God’s kingdom come in the low income neighborhoods of Costa Mesa:

“These are my people.  I found them!”  This is the declaration that gushed out of Effy Sanchez after a year of volunteering in the Shalimar neighborhood.  You can tell by watching Effy interact with the neighbors that she was right at home.  Every Wednesday she rolls into the neighborhood with bingo and prizes.  She spends a few hours playing bingo on the front lawn with 20 or so neighbor women.  But the interaction goes much deeper than bingo games.  Effy is a woman with vision.  She has experienced the love and grace of Jesus Christ and is passionate to share it.

As it began to get dark earlier it seemed that the summer of weekly bingo was wrapping up. But the neighbor women really liked getting together- it was a break in the tasks of the week, an opportunity to enjoy themselves and connect with other women.  They realized that Effy was a part of that.  They decided to keep meeting on Wednesday nights at a home and invited Effy to read the Bible to them.  They made it clear that they didn’t want her to preach, just read the Bible.  This was the opportunity that Effy had been waiting for.

That was three summers ago and now Effy is planning to launch three home Bible studies when this year’s “summer bingo” is over.  The same ladies play bingo each week, having added more to the group.  But they also meet weekly to plan neighborhood projects including clean up days and a neighborhood watch.  The time they have spent in the scripture has informed how they see their community and the responsibility they feel to love their neighbor as themselves.  In addition to coordinating the neighborhood Bible studies, Effy is co-leading the Neighborhood Action Committee- Comunidad Unida.

In addition to coordinating the neighborhood Bible studies, Effy is co-leading the Neighborhood Action Committee- Comunidad Unida.  As a group we have just surveyed our neighborhood to hear the priorities of the community and are now planning activities to address those concerns.  In some ways it feels that things are happening “all of a sudden” but I know that it is through the perseverance and faithfulness of friends like Effy that we see neighbors taking action now.

At Mika CDC Effy is the perfect example of how one life can transform a community.  By being faithful to show up, to trust, to speak God’s word, to encourage and give opportunities to lead, Effy has developed a group of women grounded in the word of God and ready to work together to build a community of VISION.


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