Below are some stories from Mission Year team members about what they are experiencing.
“Then Jesus said to the disciples,” And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body. Life is much more important than food, and the body much more important than clothes.” Your father knows that you need these things. Instead, be concerned with his kingdom, and he will provide you with these things.
God provides! That is amazing and let us rejoice!!! For all our needs he will take care of. During my trip home I was blessed left and right. I was given shelter, food, love, and friendships. I was shown grace, love, and so much more. During my trip to California I truly saw how much God has provided and it is beyond my needs and desires. God is very intricate and detailed and I adore this quality. When my heart was sad God filled it. I went down to Almeada st in Los Angeles one night with my dear friend Natalie to go pass out some sandwiches we had made(about thirty). We ran into this beautiful homeless woman who invited us to dinner. We went in and saw all these people; hungry, tired, and waiting on a good meal. The volunteers there were few so we offered to help. They hardly spoke English and we hardly spoke Spanish, but it worked! They would pray in Spanish and then I would pray in English. We served all these homeless folks together. Jesus once again feed the multitudes. We came with thirty sandwiches and we ended up feeding over one hundred and fifty people. I was in awe, the love that poured out from all these beautiful children of God. All These beautiful people that our society has pushed out and forgotten are sons and daughters of Christ. Where is your suffering brother and dying sister? Have they eaten today? I know my belly is always full but I can’t say the same for them. If God has provided you with something is it not to bless others? Matthew 6 vrs 19-21; “Do not store up riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are. That really makes me check my heart. It does not say keep some for yourself and give what’s left to others. It screams to me against our culture, STOP! Stop storing things up for yourselves; this is NOT advancing the kingdom of God. And it will one day all rot. Time is so precious and we are wasting it! And if you do not treasure these things you own and store, than stop storing them up and buying more. For your heart will always be where your riches are. I think most of us in the church including myself still have it backwards. We want to take care of ourselves, we don’t need God’s providence. We want to buy the things we want or use the money we’ve earned, even though God has given us the ability to work. Oh and we don’t treasure these small possessions (sarcasm).
Who is treasuring our dying brothers and sisters? Who treasures the poor more than the latest cool electronic devise. Who clothes our brothers and sisters before they store more up in their closet? I encourage you to take a look at where your riches are and then see your heart. If it’s not for the kingdom of God then it’s useless. We have a purpose here and it’s not to love ourselves. Our culture has infested our hearts and taken the throne and even when we think we are living for God, and doing works for God’s Glory, which we may be doing. We can be honest, we as a church are not doing enough! If we treasured our dying brothers and sisters without food, without a home, if we loved the drug addicts and prostitutes as ourselves then the whole world would know us by God’s love. And embarrassingly you can look around and it’s easy to see what the church treasures, it’s just hard to see the difference between the treasures of the church and of this world. So we need change and it can start small. How can your riches become your brothers and sisters and not your worldly possessions? I think you know the answer. As the church we are the hands and feet of God lets take that back and use our blessings to bless others!” -Melissa Scott
” I am in Clarkston GA (on the E edge of Atlanta). I am not in the deep inner city as expected, but I am in an area of refugees. These people have fled their countries for various reasons and have been sent here. NY times claims Clarkston as the most diverse square mile in the world and over 120 languages are spoken here. Next door my neighbors are from Russia, then Sudan, then Somalia, and close by are also people from Burma, India, Afghanistan, and many other places. I feel like I am not even in America here, there are so many cultures and together they have produced a kind of culture of their own. People are very welcoming here, our neighbors made tea and a foreign bread for us the first night we were here. Children are always playing outside and adults are around talking. It feels like a wonderful place to be. I can’t wait for relationships to really get formed.
There are many needs here as well. Most of the people here have gone from their homes to a United Nations refugee camp. Then they were assigned to America and placed here with a case worker who helps them get acquainted with an American city for about 3 months. Many speak very little English and have to work very long hours. Along with not speaking the language and having to adjust to a very different lifestyle, there are many other issues and injustices going on here. Many organizations have been started like after school programs for the kids and classes teaching English. Our team will be splitting up and each of us will choose where to spend the majority of our week working. I am so honored to get to be a part of helping with the lives of my friends and neighbors here.
I want to tell you more as I understand more of what this year is about. Most of all it is about loving in its purest of senses. We are reaching out in places that may not know the love of Christ and we are just loving people. We are building friendships with people, setting examples, and just helping them out. I just want to love these people by building relationships and by serving them. I wish I could really portray it in words what we are doing here, but I know I am part of something bigger than myself. These people deserve more help than they are getting and I am so glad to be a part of something that is reaching out to people in need. We are loving how we can, and learning to live love out loud.” –Kelly Edgington
Sleeping with the homeless
“Sleeping outside with the homeless was in fact one of the more difficult things that I’ve done, yet one of the most eye-opening, rewarding things I’ve done as well. I spent only one night enduring what many people do every single night; the cold earth beneath me, the bright lights shining through my closed eyes, and the noisy cars flowing down the street, and yet I’m still ungrateful. why? I personally am no better than my brother nor my sister. God loves me no more, and them no less…but praise Him for opening my eyes.
Most people started going to bed when it got dark, but seeing that I’m a night person, and it was only about 8:00, I wasn’t tired! so, I decided to go and sit on the front steps. I sat there for a few minutes before I began looking around. I quickly noticed a man sitting just a few feet behind me wave. as I waved back to say hello, he began talking. so, I listened. for over an hour.
within the first several minutes of our conversation I thought about the words that Tammy and Terry wrote in the front of my journal: “look for Jesus in the eyes of people you will see today…” in doing that, I not only saw Casey, but I saw Jesus too. my heart was then opened and willing to receive all of what was spoken through him. it was beautiful. though I only got a few words into the conversation, I was able to use the rest of it to learn and grow. it was so encouraging to hear his story and see that despite all of his hardships, he still presses on. he still seeks the face of the God that loves all of us. “God’s love is overwhelming,” he kept saying. “His grace is amazing, and His love is overwhelming.”-Kristin McLellan
The Least of These
“There is a big sign that i often walk past that proclaims a local urban ministry that ministers to “the least of these”. As I have been walking by this sign, I have thought and thought about how we use that term in Christianity today. For the past six years or so I have been involved in some capacity with different schools, churches or organizations who were doing some sort of urban ministry, working with poor and oppressed people and almost across the board, everyone (including myself) would talk about doing ministry to the least of these. Before anyone jumps my case arguing that Jesus used these words when telling the parable of the sheep and goats, hear me out. In that parable Jesus talks about a judgment and the judgment is predicated on how people responded to the least of these. The people are judged by whether they gave them food, drink, provided hospitality, etc. There is debate about whether the least of these is referring to those who literally are in need, the least of society or whether it is how the itinerant evangelists who were Christ’s disciples, whom he would shortly be sending out. For the sake of the way that most of the churches and ministries I have been involved with read this verse, let’s say it is referring to those with obvious physical need. The problem that I have is that I think that in the past 2,000 years we have subconsciously moved away from the original intended meaning and the way that we use the phrase it carries some very negative connotations. The term “the least of these” is usually meant to refer to those who are viewed that way by society, those society oppresses, those on the outskirts, the abandoned ones, the widows and orphans, the poor and the homeless. However often for us when we use the term it elevates us to a position over these people. We don’t identify ourselves as the least of these. We are elevated, we are the body of Christ, the church and we reach down and minister to the least of these, those ones who are below us and need our help. When this happens, our work with the poor turns into charity and it is a one way street where often we are closed off to receiving or learning anything from those we are interacting with. This is not overt, I don’t think anyone intentionally feels this way or would even come out and say this, but it is subtle and it can seep in and control our thinking, which I think closes us off to a lot of wonderful blessings we can have when working with “the least of these”. I know that this is something i have struggled with this year. As I was looking at the other verses in the bible where the word least was used I was intrigued to find out that when used pertaining to a person or people it was used primarily by Paul, referring to himself. Paul talks about how he is the least of apostles in 1 Corinthians and goes further in Ephesians declaring that he is less than the least of all God’s people. I think that if we are going to use the term “the least of these” at all, to avoid elevating ourselves and having a false sense of superiority that we should use it only if we are willing as Paul was to see ourselves in the midst of the least of these. If we are willing and have a firm handle on the fact that all of us, regardless of our financial or physical situation comes up lacking in the presence of God and in need of God’s abundant grace. If we are able to see things this way I think we will be blessed to find that God often uses those the world looks down on to speak to us and to bless us, and a beautiful two-way road of ministry and Christian community is opened.” -Andrew Ticknor
A Neighborhood Joint?
“In the past 9 months, several things have happened in our community that has enabled me to live life more locally. One of our cars has been retired, a coffee shop has opened, a new soul food restaurant has opened, we moved to a more central location in the neighborhood, MARTA has improved its service, and our church has become more planted in its building. I have thoroughly enjoyed my new lifestyle because it fits more closely with some of the ideals that I moved to Atlanta with: living life without a car and keeping the money I spend in my community.
However, there has been a problem that I have been wrestling with. In our neighborhood, there is a place called Harold’s BBQ. For those that are familiar with Atlanta, you have probably heard the name. It is probably one of the 2-3 most famous BBQ joints in Atlanta, along with Daddy D’z and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, and it only sits 7 blocks from my new house. People such as Jimmy Carter, our current Governor Sonny Perdue, and Jeff Foxworthy have been known to frequent this establishment. This makes it an attractive place to visit. The problem is, while these famous people eat there, my neighbors do not eat there. The people who live closest to Harold’s rarely eat there. So here is this landmark that resides in our community, and yet, it is rarely seen as part of our community. Is Harold’s a community restaurant just because it happens to reside a few blocks from my house? Or is there something else that makes it a community location?
When I spend money at the local coffee shop, I know that that money is going to the people who work at the shop, the owners of the shop, and causes that the owners support. All of which are centered in the neighborhood in which I reside, so my money gets spent several times over in my neighborhood. I also see people that I know when I am there, and am able to build community with them. It feels like a holistic experience when I am at the coffee shop. That differs vastly from my experience at Harold’s, where everything other than the location is geared towards people outside my community. I saw no one that I knew from the neighborhood (I did see my server walking through the neighborhood later that day), I know that the owners do not support local causes (they have been asked several times, and they state they support causes where they live), and I felt like I was a stranger in a place that was only a few blocks from my house.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch at Harold’s from a food perspective, I am unsure whether I will go back or not. What I am sure of, is that I desire for a place like Harold’s to be embracing of the community around it. Our neighborhood has enough eyesores and negative aspects to it (tow lots, recycling plants, chemical plants, etc..) that it would be wonderful if a positive element in the neighborhood was actually beneficial to our community. It is not hard to tell that Harold’s is not a community joint, but I wonder what it would take to get it there. How could our community embrace Harold’s? Often we expect elements in our communities to embrace the outside community, but what if the outside community embraced the elements inside of it. What if people from our neighborhood started eating there? Would they be more willing to support neighborhood causes? Sam (my son) and I are known widely throughout our neighborhood at the bank, post office, coffee shop, and soul food restaurant. What if we were as known at Harold’s? Could I convince them to be more supportive of neighborhood? I would hope so, and maybe that is my responsibility.
It is one thing to think about the “local” BBQ restaurant and talk about whether or not it is a local joint or not, but it is entirely different to talk about churches. While Harold’s is one restaurant in our neighborhood that is not local, there are at least 15 churches that have buildings in our neighborhood, but are not part of the neighborhood. As much as I would like Harold’s to be a neighborhood joint, I would love for the churches with buildings in our neighborhood to be neighborhood churches with doors open to our community. But just like Harold’s no one from our neighborhood attends most of these churches.
One day, my hope is that we will restore this community, and communities across our nation, to the type of communities that existed only 50 years ago. Communities where geographical place meant something. People were rooted where they lived, and places did not exist in your community that were not a part of your community. I hope we can have that in South Atlanta, with places like Harold’s, and with our churches. We have a long way to go, but it is an exciting road to travel on.” -Jeff Delp
Poverty becoming Flesh
“We have been spending the past couple months getting to know the faces that bear these needs. Our neighbor Tamika is a great is example. We have been fostering relationships with the majority of her family since we arrived here. It began as a simple game of Frisbee with her son Deonte, and soon followed was his sister Aallyia coloring in our kitchen. Kids had told us that their mom was pregnant and couldn’t get around very easily. After a dinner with their family and several conversations later, Tamika called because she had gone into labor but had no way to the hospital and no one else to turn to. Unfortunately, our team car was lent out to some other friends of ours; so, Kris contacted another one of our neighbors, cancelled her trip to Target, and drove Tamika and her family to the local hospital. Very early the next morning Tamika delivered her baby alone while Kris was getting Deonte and Aallyia ready for school and Tracy (the baby’s father) was at work. Eight hours later, Kris and Faith saw beautiful baby Jordan through the nursery glass window, before Tamika had even been allowed to hold her child. Healthy mom and baby are now back home, where they live in their two-bedroom apartment with Tracy and the three other children. These are just some of the injustices our new friends face everyday. Things we have never had to deal with. It has been an honor to help Tamika with her family and share in her burdens, and she has helped us to see God through those he cares for most.” -Raymond and Kris Cole
A Neighbor who smokes weed and totes guns and knives...
The first time we met her she wholeheartedly welcomed us to the neighborhood and said, “If anyone gives you any trouble, call me. I have guns, knives and I’ll take care of ‘em.” We laughed, not knowing what to think, and she said, “Don’t laugh, I’m serious!” And she is. She’s a tiny woman, but you wouldn’t want to mess with her fiery, passionate nature. When she invited us into her home, she asked if we’d be bothered if she smoked pot in front of us. That’s one we hadn’t heard before.
Did you miss seeing Him? Look again…
It was probably the most powerful and holy prayer I’ve ever heard, the most blessed dinner I’ve ever eaten. The depth of the prayer and the Truth in it amazed me. I thought we were inviting our urban neighbor to dinner to bless her, but instead it seemed the presence of Jesus was in our midst because of her. And when dinner was over, she jumped to help me clean up the dishes. On her car it says “GodsKid”; she holds Bible study every Wednesday; Our Daily Breads are scattered around her house, well-used; and she has made us feel at home in our new neighborhood. She bought us a welcome/birthday cake (for John) in October; had us over to watch the Falcons football game and shared food and drinks; invited us to have a real southern dinner in a few weeks; and has brought us under her wing of protection and care. Her home is a place of welcome and safety and peace to anyone. Her energy and laughter and enthusiasm are inspiring and uplifting. She loves her neighbors in very tangible ways. She gives abundantly, loves abundantly, and has grace abundantly because she knows God’s abundant Grace meets her abundant need for grace.
She owns guns and smokes pot and loves Jesus.
This is our neighbor, and I see Jesus in her more than I see Jesus in myself.” -Faith and John Watson
The life of a Refugee
“We live in a world that loves to help. Often times, we do for others what they can already do for themselves. Bob Lupton, a Christian Community Developer and an entrepreneur, says “Doing for others what they can do for themselves is charity at its worst.” For example, a child is failing in school, so we help her with her homework. A family is about to get kicked out of their apartment, so we scrounge up some money to pay their rent and so on. This creates dependency. How then can refugees find freedom in America when those of us who live here are unable to find it? How can we help them overcome “limiting situations” that block them from achieving true liberation? How do we help them recapture their dignity as human beings? These are some of the questions and themes out of Paulo Freire’s book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed that I should like to address in the following pages. I hope to offer some ideas and some strategies that may be helpful in responding to the needs in my community of Clarkston, Georgia.
Do we really understand what they have been through? A refugee is a person who must leave his or her homeland because of persecution or fear of persecution of religious beliefs, ethnic background or political activities. A lengthy wait in a refugee camp is the first step for most refugees. The average stay in a camp is five years, but some families have lived in one camp for over fifteen years. The camps are usually guarded closely by guards and surrounded by barbed wire. Emigrants stay in these camps until a new country gives them permission to enter. While they are in the camps, they are “dehumanized” by their oppressors. Their oppressors try to overpower, subdue, manipulate, and control the lives of the refugees. They are kept down by the unjust use of power or authority, ruled harshly, and tyrannized over. This causes them to feel sub-human, almost like objects. Freire states, “An act is oppressive only when it prevents people from being more fully human.”
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service interviews those refugees who may be resettled in the United States and only those who can prove they are escaping persecution are eligible to find freedom in this country. When some refugees do receive the good news that a country has accepted them, the International Organization for Migration coordinates their transportation from the camp to their new home. The United States receives more than 50,000 refugees each year. The Department of State assigns each emigrant to one of several voluntary agencies. Those agencies help refugees become self-sufficient by providing basic services during their first ninety days in the United States.
Currently, 150 refugees in Clarkston are unemployed, yet they keep resettling here because the government has already processed their cases. The majority of the refugees came with aspiration, but now many are left hopeless. “We came with hope. Now I wish my family and I would have stayed in Nepal awhile longer,” said Bhanu, a Bhutanese refugee. Freire stated that “Hopelessness is a form of silence, of denying the world and fleeing from it.” After a couple of months, refugees come face-to-face with the reality that building a new life in the United States will not be as easy as they had thought, especially when adequate support is not available. The psychological stresses of their new lives combine with the consequences of past traumas to paralyze them in their move toward independence.
For those reasons of hopelessness and dependability, World Relief is there to help and meet the needs of refugee clients. Its mission is to work with, the Church to relieve human suffering, poverty and hunger worldwide in the name of Jesus Christ. The current depressed state of the economy is disheartening and a lot of people are suffering because of it. At World Relief, we try our best to meet the many needs of our emigrant clients. We take them to their health screens and doctor appointments, register the children for school, help them find adequate jobs, and help them apply for social security cards and secure permanent, affordable housing.
My Bhutanese friend Lila-Ballab said, “World Relief does everything for us. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Since I have arrived here, I have felt like I have lost my courage.” Most refugees that I have come into contact with feel unconfident in their abilities, especially when it comes to speaking English. They rely on those of us who speak passable English to be their voices. When we try to teach the refugees how to do something, most of the time they prefer that we just do it for them. Kelley, one of my housemates, works at an internet café and helps emigrants build resumes. One day, a lady came in with an application from Wal-Mart. She expected Kelley to complete the application for her. The fact of the matter is that dependency is unhealthy. Freire says, “Libertarian action must recognize this dependence as a weak point and must attempt through action and reflection to transform it into independence.” Only then will one be free.
At Indian Creek Elementary School, a school in our neighborhood, the teachers only make deposits into their students, not vice versa. Most of the students take on a passive role and never discover that they can educate their teachers. My housemate Matt volunteers at Indian Creek Elementary, and he says there are some kids who do not know how to read, write, or do basic math. The kids are not learning anything but are afraid to say anything because they do not want to be punished. This is a good example of the Banking Concept of Education, which is discussed by Freire in his book. It is defined as the false understanding of men and women as objects. Teachers only make deposits into students, not vice versa. The students never discover that they educate the teacher, which inhibits their creative power. On the other hand, the Problem Posing Concept of Education implies that everyone is always going to be a teacher and a student. You can always learn something from another, and everyone is able to teach a thing or two to his/her neighbor. It does not matter if he or she has a disability or is less educated. The fact of the matter is that you must maintain a beginner’s mindset by questioning in order to learn. By creating an atmosphere that encourages creativity, growth, and belonging, we can learn from one another. “Those truly committed to liberation must reject the Banking Concept of Education in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings” (Freire 1993).
To wrap things up, I would like to share a story. The other day I was sitting on the bus reading a book and minding my own business when suddenly a scraggly, homely, middle-aged woman plopped down beside me. The first thing she said was “Hmmm… that looks like an interesting book. What is it about?” After awhile, Sarah decided to share her life with me. She told me that her husband left her nineteen years ago, so she had to raise her daughter by herself. Because of that tragedy, they were homeless for five years. On the streets, people would pass by her without even acknowledging her presence, pretending like she did not exist. Sarah felt worthless and hopeless. One day, she decided that she was tired of the life she was living because it was getting her nowhere. She was fed up with people telling her she was a crazy, mentally retarded woman who would never amount to anything in this world. What turned Sarah’s life around is what Freire calls “inner strength.” She got her fight back. Although it is a struggle, Sarah has been able to get her life back on track. She is currently taking classes at DeKalb Technical College and working a part-time job. My words of encouragement to her were these: “Sarah, look at how far you have come. You should be proud of yourself. Someday your story will be an inspiration to many. I can feel your passion! My hope to you is that you believe in yourself as much as I believe in you.” Suddenly, the bus stopped, but before she got off she said, “I love you. Why can’t there be more people like you in this world?” At that moment, I finally saw beyond her state of being and caught a glimpse of her as a beautiful individual, a person who had worth and value to offer others, even people like me.
In the end, “We must come to deeply believe that every person, no matter how destitute or broken has something of worth to bring to the table” (Lupton 2007). The refugees need to hear that message and believe that no matter what has happened or what will happen, we never lose our value as human beings. Nothing can take that away. Only then will we be able to see value in others, help them discover it, and encourage them to reach their God-given potential.” – Zach Benson