Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not the Religious but the Broken

I know I said I would update sooner but I didn't. I do want to pick up where I left off though. I went with Dr. Perkins to grab some dinner and then we sat down to eat and to talk. He asked me a few more questions about Bonhoeffer, Perkins, and my dreams for the future and then he began talking about the community and how he loves to reach out to the children. He stopped for a brief second and just watched the kids run around the playground and others on the basketball court. He talked about how they were the future and all they needed was a little bit of love and leadership.

A man then walked up to Dr. Perkins and started talking to him about a ministry that he was a part of.  I'm going to skip over this part of the story and combine it with another man that came up later in the evening. Fast forward to when the man left and we finished dinner. Dr. Perkins got up and I followed him like a little puppy dog to another table. Seated at that table were two women that looked to be in maybe their early 20's. One had two children and the other had three. Dr. Perkins assured them that they were welcome any time and that he hoped that they come back. He then shared his chips with one of the women's three year old son and commented on how beautiful the child was. About that time a man walked up to him and introduced himself. This is the second encounter that I will leave for another post.

When the man finally left so had the two women with their children. Dr. Perkins turned to me and said those two women are on the edge, they are near prostitutes if not fully in prostitution. They had five children between the two of them with five different fathers. He then told me that he loved them. He said he loves being surrounded by people like that. He said that for most of his adult life he had been surrounded by religious people and through all of those experiences he came to find that he isn't too fond of the religious people. No, it's not the religious that he wants to be surrounded by but the broken. He wants to spend the remaining year, months, or days of his life in a place a redemption.

He compared his longing for that of Henri Nouwen who decided to move to a L'Arche community in Canada where he worked with the developmentally disabled. Dr. Perkins doesn't mean that he wants to move away to a place like a L'Arche community but he wants to reach out and surround himself with broken people so that he can live, learn, and grow with them. So that he can be a redemptive love. He said that those two women represented many in the community who have sought out sex to fill a void. They then have children in hopes to show children a love they never have. They think that they an account for the lack of love they received by sharing it with their children. It is at that point that they realize because they have never truly felt love, they are incapable of sharing it. This then continues a vicious cycle of people incapable of loving and being loved.

Dr. Perkins then feels called to share love. To share the love of God. It all starts much like it did that night at the picnic table. He'll walk up to them, ask their names, ask if they are enjoying themselves, and then asks them to return. Dr. Perkins asked nothing from them but their company. All he wants to do is to love them. He has no agenda. He doesn't want sex, he doesn't want to abuse them, he doesn't want to demean them, he doesn't want to tear them down. He just wants to love them, and love them dearly.

Isn't this what we're all called to do? Didn't Jesus say that the greatest commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Didn't Jesus love indiscriminately? Didn't Jesus feel called to the broken and marginalized? Didn't he say radical things like blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, and those who mourn? Who did Jesus surround himself with? I'll give you a hint. It wasn't the religious type.



P.S. I could probably write 20-30 posts just in the two days I spent with Dr. Perkins. I'm not sure how many I am going to end up writing but I promise I will keep them coming. I know that these posts can't even begin to portray how much I learned and grew from having met Dr. Perkins but I hope they can be a taste. It may seem like I'm putting Dr. Perkins up on some high pedestal and maybe I am but it is only because he first humbled himself and allowed God to work through him and God still continues to bless Dr. Perkins and his ministries.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Listen and Learn

Thursday morning I left Atlanta and headed to Jackson MS. In Jackson MS is the Spencer Perkins Center which houses the ministries of John Perkins. For those who do not know who John Perkins is you should look up information on him and definitely pick up a book or two or seven from him. I got there later in the afternoon and checked into my room and got a quick tour and explanation of the center. I then ran into Dr. Perkins and he came up to me and said "Hey guy, who are you?" Dr. Perkins explains that he doesn't have much time left so he likes to get to the point. I quickly explained to him who I was, where I was coming from, and why I was there. He said that they were having a large gathering later and that he would sit down and talk with me then.I headed back to my room and took a nap and did some reading before the gathering.

5:30 rolled around and I went outside to see probably over a hundred kids running around and playing. I talked with some of the volunteers until at 6:00 they gathered the kids together to sing some songs and listen to a guest speaker. The speaker talked about staying true to yourself and being confident. After he was finish speaking Dr. Perkins stood up and thanked him for speaking and said that he had faith in the kids in front of him. He has faith that this generation has the ability to be a post-racist society. He said that the majority of his life he has faced oppression merely because of the color of his skin. There were many people and unfortunately are still people who stupidly hate people simply because they don't have a desire to get to know them. Some people go through they lives choosing hatred over love and in the process trap themselves in the hatred. He talked about getting beaten to the verge of death in a Brandon MS jail simply because the color of his skin and that he was fighting for freedom and rights for his fellow people.

He continued on to say that even though he has been through many trials, he has faith in the future. He has faith in humankind that we can turn around and better our lives and the lives of those around us. We can choose to love and not to hate. We can love indiscriminately in the face of those who hate indiscriminately. We need to continue to know where we're coming from and know where we're headed.

He then prayed a blessing over the children and over the meal and the kids ran off to get food. I walked up to Dr. Perkins to once again introduce myself. I told him a little more about the trip and about both the Epworth Project and the New Monastic House that I hope to start when I return to Columbia, SC in the summer of 2013. He asked me a question about Bonhoeffer and before I could finish my answer he started talking about the community there in MS. I started to finish my answer and he again started talking about his experiences. I started to get frustrated and then realized how ridiculous that was. It didn't matter what I had to say or what I had to share, one of the most influential men in Christian Community Development was sharing with me what he had learned over the last 80 years. Nothing I was going to say to him was going to be of much importance but everything he shared was loaded with wisdom. From that point on for the next 24hrs I was going to listen to whatever he had to say and only speak when necessary. That is something that I do not always practice but the next 24hrs would be a great lesson in humility.



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Little Bit of This a Little Bit of That

On Wednesday morning I woke up and headed to Cafe 458 to meet Jyssica who is one of the members of the South Atlanta Team. On Wednesday I would visit the work sites of all of the members of that team. Cafe 458 is a cafe that is open on Sunday for a gourmet brunch and the profits go to the Atlanta Center for Self-suficiency. During the week they also cook meals for those who are going through the various programs that the center runs.

After meeting with Jyssica for a bit and learning about her site and about her experiences with Mission Year, I headed to the next site where I met Maureen. Maureen is a recent high school graduate who decided to do Mission Year before heading off to college in order to get a bit of life experience. At the site where she works they have various projects such as Business clothing distribution, storage bins, computers, phones, and other things that their clients can use. They first, however, have to go through an empowerment class where the people are given information on how to find and get jobs and given various skills training. They also can work with people to help them get a GED. I spent some time at the kitchen there where we fed the people going through the class.

The next stop what Charis Community Housing to meet Kaitlin. Kaitlin showed me around and told me a bout Charis. She works with the others in the office to find housing opportunities for those who may not be able to find it otherwise. They do not have housing themselves but work more as a networking organizations. There is also Glencastle next door which is housing. It is ironically an old debtors prison that they have since turned in to transitional housing. People can live at Glencastle while looking for jobs and other housing.

The next stop would have been the Georgia Justice Project but unfortunately I could not get in touch with the contact there so I moved on to the last stop to meet Emily, the team leader of the South Atlanta Team. She worked close to the house they stayed at and worked at a thrift store that was connected to a coffee shop. These two businesses were used to empower the community. They offered jobs to people in the neighborhood and they also gave an outlet for people to donate their old stuff and others could then buy it at low cost. I like thrift stores because they are a way of taking big business somewhat out of the equation and keeping money in the community. People can often even still buy name brand products but they have already been bought and so the money is now no longer going to big business but to the community.

As I mentioned about some of the other members of Mission Year, each of the girls I met plan on finding a way to live out intentional community after they leave. Some will be doing that through various ministries such as youth ministry at local churches, others will be going back to school, and others are still not sure how their future will shape out but they want to be sure to get connected with their neighbors and community.

Overall, my three days with Mission Year turned out to be a great experience. I was able to see one more model of intentional community and how they can both empower the people living in the houses and the communities in which they are located.

Soon I will be back to update about my time with John Perkins. That will take more than just one post...



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Living the Dream

Tuesday evening I left Open Door and headed to the second mission year site. When I got there I was introduced to the six people living in that house. This house was a trailer house that was in a predominately Latin American trailer park. They all worked at a summer camp close by and they also interacted as most they could with the neighborhood. Most of them do not speak Spanish so it made it difficult for them.

We sat down to dinner which was chicken alfredo, pasta alfredo, and pasta. The reason for the three separate dishes was because one of the residents was vegetarian and another was vegan. Apparently it made for interesting meal planning. Eating habits was not the only difference among the residents, one of the residents was black, another had Latino heritage, and four were female. They also ranged in age from 19-29. I asked them how it was living in the house with people who were all fairly different and had come to mission year for different reasons. They said that it wasn't always easy, and they didn't always agree but they always tried to talk through things. There were a few times when Caz, the city director, would come to be a mediator. I can't stress how important conflict resolution is when living in intentional community, or in life in general! If conflict can not be resolved then it will continue to linger and people will begin to create other conflicts that they may not have created if the original conflict had been resolved.

Another question I asked them was if they plan on living out intentional community when they left mission year. Two of them will actually be team leaders again next year for mission year at different sites. They also, after next year, want to find ways to live out intentional community in their lives. One was headed back to school and was hoping to find other girls at her school that might like to live together intentionally. Two were hoping to find a way they could live intentionally wherever it is they find themselves. There was only one who said that she has no desire to live in intentionally community after this year.

After dinner I headed back to the house where I was staying and talked with Tyler through the night about various things ranging from racism to denominations to the experiences that he has had living in intentional communities.

I headed off to bed and the  next day would be a busy one where I visited the work sites of the third mission year team.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Was Hungry And You Fed Me, Naked, And You Clothed Me

Tuesday morning I woke up and headed back to the Open Door Community to volunteer. Before we began out volunteer work we all circled up and had a devotion. Ed Loring, one of the founders of Open Door, lead us in a devotion entitlement and race relations. Ed is a very very passionate man and it was inspiring to hear him speak about something he felt so deeply about. He mentioned anti-miscegenation laws and how wrong they were. Unfortunately the sentiment did not die with those laws. There are still many people who are opposed to interracial marriage and dating for what reason is beyond me. We discussed some possible reasons that people may be opposed but ultimately it boiled down to fear and ignorance.

After our devotion the jobs were divvied out and I was given the position of one of the servers. The doors were opened and people began to file in. They came and sat down and I brought bowls of soup to them as they came in. I also gave the refills on soup, tea, water, bread, and peanut butter. This is the routine on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. While we were serving lunch there were other volunteers organizing clothes recycling, showers, and vitamin distribution. Later that night they would also have a women's clinic and foot clinic. I enjoyed my time serving and it was much more humanizing than other forms of free lunches. I was not behind a serving stand but was out interacting with everyone and serving them.

When the last person was served we began to clean up and rearranged the tables into a circle and had a meal for all of the volunteers. Over lunch we continued our discussion from the devotion. Others shared their experience with racism and with people who frowned upon their relationships or were even abusive towards them. Others told stories of people in their neighborhood who were murdered for their interracial relationship and that the people responsible were never held at trial. We have fortunately progressed some since those days but we still have a long way to go and there are areas that still suffer this same oppression.

After lunch I spent the afternoon talking with the various resident volunteers and partners and they shared with me parts of their stories. They all have different backgrounds but all of their backgrounds have led them to the same place: the Open Door Community. Open Door is a wonderfully diverse and loving community. After spending some time with the different members of Open Door I headed out to have dinner with the second Mission Year House. Rather than have an extra long post I will post later with more details about that visit.



New Gyrovagues Revisited

First of all I want to apologize to those who were following this blog and to those who I visited on the trip but did not write about. I'm now going to take the next few days to revisit the trip and talk about what I did for the last week of the trip. I will begin with Monday July 18th.

On Monday I woke up at the Open Door Community and spent most of the morning resting and walking around talking to the different partners and resident volunteers. At about 1:00 I headed over to the first Mission Year site which was where I would stay for the next three nights. That particular house only had two Mission Year volunteers living there because earlier in the year three of the volunteers had decided to leave the program. I met with the two of them for a little while and then walked over to the church that they partner with. At the church they were leading a summer program for the kids in the area. Summer camps are something that can be found anywhere but they are particularly important in high risk areas such as urban Atlanta. Neighborhoods such as the ones where the Mission Year houses are located have high gang activity and the summer camp is a way to first of all give the children an alternative to just roaming the streets and second of all give them proper love and education.

On that particular day they fed the kids a snack, read a chapter of a book with them, and then went into the other room to make ice cream, shuck corn, and make thank you cards for the people they had visited earlier in the week. Every summer camp is different but like I mentioned in my reflection at Common Ground, the only thing that really matters is that you love the children. The children may remember some of the songs, games, or filed trips but what they will mostly likely truly remember are the relationships they had. They will remember the leaders who loved them and the fellow friends at the camp. Therefore, although a well structured camp and good planning can go a long way for the people working at the camp, and it may even slightly enhance the children's experience, the main purpose is to show your and God's love to the children. You may also find that the kids too reflect their and God's love to you.

After the camp was over we walked back to the house and one of the kids from the camp came over and I worked on a puzzle with him. For those of you who don't know, I love puzzles so I had no complaints about spending a couple of hours working on a puzzle with a kid. On a side note, I actually continued to work on the puzzle over the next two days and finally finished it the night before I left.

Caz who is the City director came over for dinner and I joined them for dinner and discussion. Since the program ended the week after I left the discussion over dinner was mostly about reflecting on the past year and what they had experienced. It was really cool to hear the stories of how they connected with the neighborhood and the ups and downs they felt through the year. They also talked a little bit about the three room mates leaving and how they had to cope with that. The three room mates had all left suddenly and without discussing it in great detail and so it should the importance of being open an honest while living in intentional community. Communication is key and without it things can slowly start to fall apart. Despite the three room mates leaving, the remaining two decided to stay strong and finish out the year and it turned out to be a rewarding four months for them. They did not let the situation bring them down. One of the keys to intentional community, and really life in general is the ability to be flexible. Nothing ever goes according to plan and there will always be challenges that we had to face, but if you are willing to work with what you got and be willing to adjust to what is given, then you become a greater outlet for the spirit.

I enjoyed my stay with Mission Year and my next two or three posts will be more reflection on this community and organization



Monday, July 18, 2011

One of Those God Things

Yesterday morning I woke up early and headed to Atlanta. I got here to the Open Door Community around 12:30 and was greeted by Jon who is a novitiate here at Open Door. He welcomed me in, showed me my room, and began introducing me to everyone. When we walked into the dining room he introduced me to those who were eating when one of the people with their backs to me turned around. It was Rich Robinson who is a pastor at Epworth UMC in John's Island South Carolina and he and his wife started a non-profit called Nuevos Caminos. I had talked to Anton from Alterna about Rich and his work in Charleston and was going to put the two in contact with each other. I had met Rich at Annual Conference but did not really get the chance to talk to him all that much. I did, however, get that chance yesterday. Rich is staying here at Open Door while taking Course of Study classes at Chandler School of Theology at Emory University.

After meeting some other people and catching up with Rich over lunch, I got a full tour of the building. Here at Open Door they have various ways to help out out their homeless friends in the neighborhood. These include food distribution, clothes, showers, art lessons and more but best of all, community. Their clothing distribution is different from most places that I have seen in that the people who come in pick out some clothes and then give to open door their dirty clothes. Open Door then looks to see if they are still in good condition and if they are they wash them and put them back on the racks for others to use. This way is more of a clothing recycling where the people who come in are sharing with each other rather than the simple hand out mentality some places take on.

After the tour I rested a little bit and then attended their worship service. The service begins around 4:00 with welcoming and songs. There is then a time for prayer requests, of which this community has many. The time for prayer requests was one of the more telling aspects of the worship time. There were many prayers for each other in the community such as health problems and safe travels, but then there were also other prayers directed primarily to those on death row. Open Door as well as some of the other partners in the area work to speak out against the death penalty and they go to visit those on death row. There is an execution this wednesday so that was a great area of concern. The service continued with more song, liturgy and Rich happened to be preaching. After the sermon their was communion which lead into the community meal afterward.

I spent the rest of the evening talking with those in the community in order to learn more about them and Open Door and to share a little about my experience on this trip and at the Bonhoeffer House. Open Door is a wonderful and hospitable community and I hope that when I get back to South Carolina I can continue to have a relationship with them.