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.



Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 2 at Area 15

Yesterday was a fairly relaxing day for me. I slept in until about 9:15 and then went to a bible study in front of the free store. The free store is located next to the main building of Area 15 and they have various items but mainly clothing in which anyone can take what they need. The slogan for the store is "give what you want, take what you need". I attended the bible study and then headed back to my room to write yesterday's blog post.

After finishing up the post I went to the coffee shop called Not Just Coffee which is owned by a guy named James who has experience living in intentional community. He, his wife and kids no longer live in intentional community and I found it interesting when he said he would never do it again. The reason I found it interesting that he would say something like that is because he IS still living in intentional community. Maybe he no longer has to share a bathroom at his house but he does still share a bathroom at his work (there are only a few bathrooms at Area 15 so many businesses will share one bathroom) and he is still working in intentional community in that he is working with the other businesses around him. James and another guy from Area 15 had worked at Leo's wedding to brew coffee for all of the guests. From that experience, they are now looking to possibly add catering to their business and cater events such as weddings, art shows, etc where they bring their unique coffee and brewing style.

We sat and talked for a while until Daniel, a friend from College came and picked me up and we went to get some lunch. I had forgotten that Daniel lived in Charlotte until the night before and so I gave him a call and we decided to pick up some lunch. It was fun to catch up and we mostly talked about how great Carolina Football was going to be this year and a little bit about what we had been doing the past year.

When I returned to Area 15 I talked a little bit with Carlos and Robert who are the owners of the property and we shared ideas of how to live in community and how to live intentionally as Christians. They talked a little about how Area 15 got started and how it has affected them and others who have been a part of it. Conversations like that have been some of the most enjoyable parts of this trip.

I ended the day like I did the day before with the open AA meetings. This time, I also stayed for the 12:00 meeting and hung out with everyone until about 2:00AM. I obviously will not talk about what was said in the meeting but I do want to mention one thing that I found out. In Minnesota they have these places call Wet Houses in which they allow homeless alcoholics to come and live in the Wet Houses and they are allowed to drink. It is basically the governments way of say that the alcoholic is hopeless and it is better to give them a place to drink themselves to death rather than "waste the tax payers money". Since when has helping to save someone's life been considered a waste of money? I wish I could say that this information shocked me but unfortunately it doesn't we live in a society that is centered around money. Everyone wants to make as much money as they can at all cost and they want to spend it on themselves. Some try to help others but only on their terms. They don't want to do anything to inconvenience themselves.

I was standing outside of Area 15 when I noticed something rather interesting. This is the view from Area 15.
In the background you can see the downtown Charlotte skyline. Those tall buildings are home to many fortune 500 companies as well as their CEOs and top employees. You may also notice the foreground which can better be seen in this picture.

While the other picture showed all of the wealth of downtown, this picture reflects the poverty which is oh so close to the extreme wealth. This is not unique to Charlotte but can be reflected in most cities. West Dallas is one of the most impoverished zip codes in the United States yet they have a "beautiful" view of the Downtown Dallas skyline.

How can we find reconciliation? Area 15 is a prime example of where people could start. It wouldn't take much for some of those big businesses to buy warehouses and rent out the space at little to no cost in order to create small business incubators. That, however, could possibly create a paradigm shift. People may begin to think they can actually be something and start their own businesses instead of working for corporate America. People might start shopping locally and live out Carlos' version of the "Trickle Down Effect" where people buy from those who make less money than they do. But alas, what then, would happen to all those multi-billion dollar industries. We wouldn't want them to lose business...would we?



Saturday, July 16, 2011

If Two Heads Are Better Than One, What Can 27 Heads Do?

Yesterday I arrived at Area 15 around 5:00. I met Carlos who is one of the owners of the building and he gave me a tour. Area 15 is a large warehouse on 15th street not too far from Downtown Charlotte. The warehouse is home to 20 businesses and 7 non-profits. Each has it's own unique identity and it's own unique space. The businesses range from painters, graffiti artists, jewelers and tattoo artists to real estate agents, newspaper writers, and online networking businesses.
This is one of the legal graffiti walls behind Area 15. 

In a city which headquarters many big businesses like Bank of America, Area 15 works to help out the small businesses. I really like how Carlos worded in that "We should buy from people who make less money than we do". That brings a whole new meaning to the trickle down effect. Rather than buy from large corporations to save a buck or two, buy from your local mom and pop store because the extra money you are spending will be working to benefit the neighborhood that you live in. Area 15 may not be making a lot of money from their rent but they are a ministry that works as a business incubator. Everyone at Area 15 is here because they want to be here. If they didn't want to be here then they'd leave (the leases are month to month so they only need to leave a 30 day notice and then they are free to go).

The best picture of the community that I have witnessed was that I happened to come in on the night of a wedding of one of the members of Area 15. The sound guy for the Paper Tongues was getting married and they were kind enough to invite me to the wedding. It was a simple and beautiful service that was held at a rose garden just down the street from Area 15. Leo (the groom)'s family is Mexican and they had cooked a full meal for everyone complete with chips, enchiladas, fruit, vegetables, rice, beans etc. Some dark clouds came over the wedding and right after the service ended it began to rain. I did not hear a single person complain as some stayed out in the rain talking and eating while others went inside the lone small building at the garden. They went inside for coffee, dessert, and dancing. It was a wonderful sense of community as family and friends were joined with other members of Area 15.

After the wedding I attended an AA meeting that is held in the prayer room. I forgot to mention before, but there is a space of Area 15 that is devoted to a 24hr prayer room and they have AA meetings there at 10:00 and 11:59 each evening followed by fellowship time. The meeting is an open meeting and so they welcomed me in and were a loving and honest group of people. Not all of the community would call themselves Christian but I believe they are more likely to be called Christian than many who attend a worship service every Sunday morning. Regardless of what they call themselves, Area 15 is a loving, caring, and supportive community that is searching ways to love themselves and love one another through a community of small businesses and non-profits.




Wednesday night after finishing up my time at Alterna I headed to Comer GA to visit Jubilee. I arrived around 9:00 that evening and talked with a few of the people there before going to bed to rest up for the next day.

On Thursday morning I woke up early, ate some breakfast and then headed out to pick blueberries!

At Jubilee they grow a lot of fruits and vegetables but blueberries are their main crop and I came at the right time to be able to go out and pick some. They also have cows, chickens, rabbits and a large pond open to the public for fishing. They try to be as sustainable as they can but they still go in to town to buy some things that they do not make or grow themselves. Many of their fruits and vegetables were used for their meals and I have to say it was all quite delicious. It made me really wish that we had more land at Bonhoeffer so that we could have a garden but hopefully we can use one of the community gardens in Dallas.

After picking some blueberries, Carolyn, one of the co-founders of Jubilee, took me on a tour. She told me the history of Jubilee and that is started as a branch off from Koinonia Farm because Koinonia was getting rather large and so some of the partners decided to go searching for another place to expand a similar ministry. They eventually stumbled upon some land that a dairy farmer was selling and thus began Jubilee partners. They started living in tents on the grounds and started building houses. One of the first buildings was the Koinonia house which is where volunteers and visitors stay and where the dining hall is located.
They were unsure of the identity that Jubilee Partners would take on until one day there was an article in the newspaper about refugee camps across the world and that there were various organizations in the US that would take in refugees and help them transition to a new life. They prayed about it and then contacted Atlanta Refugee Services and soon received their first guests (about 40 Cuban refugees). Since the first group of guests, Jubilee has received people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Burundi, Vietnam, Colombia, Burma, and many other countries. They stay for usually about two months to learn English and slowly transition into American lifestyle. As you can imagine, to come from a refugee camp to downtown Atlanta would be a major culture shock, but by living at Jubilee and having farming, animals, and a peaceful surrounding with loving neighbors helps them to transition.

In addition to the refugee guests, Jubilee also has about 12 volunteers at any given time. Some stay for a season while others may stay for a whole year or even longer. The rest of the people at Jubilee are Partners. There are the original founding Partners and then they welcome other partners through a novitiate process in which the person starts as a volunteer for a period of a year and then after that time they become a novice and begin having regular meetings with the partners to see if they feel called to be a partner and if the partners also sense this person would make a good partner. The partners do not have to make any certain commitment like to stay there for life because they acknowledge that things can change and God can call them to something new.

Although I do not see myself living in or starting a community like Jubilee, I admire the community and can take a lot from them like their simplicity and radical hospitality. Yesterday, right before I left, they had a send off for one of the families. The family had been their for two months and they were moving to Atlanta. It was a tearful goodbye for many which reflected the love that they all had for one another. Even though they had only known each other for a short while, they had grown to feel for one another and love one another.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

What you did for the least of these

Today (Tuesday July 13) was my second da at Alterna. I woke up at 6:00am to attend Morning Prayer. For their morning prayers they choose not to use a liturgy because the prayers need to be bilingual (for those who compile prayer liturgy and are reading this and are bilingual you should get on that). Instead, they read scripture, take time for centering prayer, and read a historic prayer like the prayer of St. Augustus, St. Patrick etc since most of those prayers are translated into multiple languages.

After prayer I came back to Anton’s house and we had breakfast then headed out for the day. Anton first gave me a tour of LaGrange. LaGrange is split up into four areas: North West LaGrange, North East LaGrange, South West La Grange, and South East LaGrange. Take a wild guess at how each area got it’s name. Anton told me that areas get more impoverished and higher concentration as you move from one area to the next in the order that I explained above. There are so many stories that I could share about the tour but there are two in particular that stand out.

Possibly the most disturbing part of the tour was when we passed by a school that had been closed down. Anton informed me that the school district had recently built some new schools even though there was not a bad problem of overcrowding. The school that had been closed down was the only school in South East LaGrange and one of the reasons it had closed was because there were some students (primarily white) who were being bused in and their parents didn’t like that so they moved, drove their kids to s different school, or caused uproar at city council. As a result, this school was closed and now there are kids that have to be bused as far off at 12 miles rather than walk to a school across the street. The additional problem that it adds is that many of the families in the area cannot afford their own car and so a taxi to the school (for PSA meetings, picking up a child early for being sick, etc) would cost $8 each way. This was one of the problems in the area that Anton and Alterna spoke out against but unfortunately their voice was not heard.

The next story that stuck out to me was when Anton told me about roadblocks being sat up around the town. He said there were 198 roadblocks last year alone. In these road block the primary problem is that if an undocumented immigrant is pulled over they will obviously not have a driver’s license and be fined almost $1200. There was one instance where an undocumented immigrant was simply driving home and he noticed a roadblock two blocks away but he did not need to pass through it because his house was before the roadblock. When he pulled into his driveway, the police ran up and asked him and his friend for their ID and when they did not have it they were each fined. Anton tried to get them to go to court and argue against the fine since the police did not have the right to do that but they were too afraid to do so. The same thing happened about a month later to another person but this time Anton convinced him to contest it and the charges were dropped. Some say that undocumented immigrants “drain are system” yet last year alone in LaGrange there were over $198,000 in fines for driving without a license alone!

As I mentioned before, I could write much more about my day but rather than ramble on and on I want to mention one more thing I did with Anton. We went to the jail to visit some Latino inmates and lead a bible study with them. One of the inmates had made a car for Anton out of the Styrofoam trays from the cafeteria and used toothpaste as glue. We had the bible study and after we left we went to visit Anton’s son at summer camp since it was only a block away. When we walked in and said that we had just been at the jail doing a bible study one of the teachers yelled out “A bible Study?! In a jail?!”. I’m sure there are many others who have that same response to visiting prisoners yet Jesus explicitly tells us to visit those in prison. How is it that we as Christians so often miss the most obvious teaching ins scripture such as visit those in prison, care for the alien, feed the hungry, and love your neighbor?



P.S. You may notice at the bottom of the post it says the post is being made by Adam. That is because I do not have access to internet and so I am typing my entries out, loading them to my phone via USB cable, emailing them to Adam Muckleroy, and then he is so graciously posting them for me. Hopefully when I get to Area 15 in Charlotte on Friday I will have internet and wont have to bother him.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 1 in Alterna

Today (Tuesday July 12) I woke up dark and early at 5:30 AM in order to get ready and head out to LaGrange Georgia to visit Alterna. I arrived here around 5:00 and met with Anton, his wife Charlotte, and a visitor named Eileen who was here to learn about Alterna because she also works with immigration and was a former member of the Dwell program, which is one of the communities I am trying to meet with in Atlanta. I talked a little bit about Bonhoeffer and the Epworth Project and they shared a little about their communities.

After talking a little while, 3 couples who are part of Alterna came over or dinner. One of the couples lives and works with Alterna while the other two couples are a part of the Mission Year project, which I will be learning more about next week as I visit the Atlanta site of Mission Year. We ate dinner and then sang some songs and had a bible study after dinner. They do their bible study from the lectionary and so tonight they were discussing the parable of the weeds. This parable is a rather difficult one to talk about and to decipher but there was some good fruitful discussion that came from it.

After dinner I went with Anton and the guys from Mission Year to play Ultimate Frisbee with one of the children of the couple who came for dinner. We played for a little while and then Anton walked me back to the house and as we walked back we passed the various houses that are connected to Alterna. I look forward to my tour tomorrow with Anton as he shares with me more about the city and about Alterna. The Alterna model of community is different from Bonhoeffer and some others in that each family has their own house but they all live out community together in various ways such as the community prayers, community meals, etc.

I have only spent 5 hours with Alterna so far so I do not have much to share but I’m sure tomorrow will be a long post. Thank you to Adam Muckleroy to posting this for me. Long story and I will explain tomorrow.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Let The Children Come

Last night I hung out with the Common Ground interns watching a movie in the converted church building that I talked about yesterday. After finishing the movie (or rather shutting it off because we were too tired to stay up) I went to stay at Momma T's house with Joey and Krysten (a former volunteer who came to visit). Momma T is one of the rocks of Common Ground and she graciously opened up her house for me to stay at last night.

I woke early this morning and started working on my paper and once everyone was up and ready we took Krysten to a gas station down the road where her car had broken down the day before. It had kinda been a running joke that everyone was celebrating her car breaking down because it meant they got to spend more time with her. In reality, everyone was concerned and one of the friends of Common Ground lent his truck and trailer to one of the members of Common Ground and they loaded her car up on the trailer and took it to a friend to get fixed. Joey and I then headed back to the "Brighthouse" where the interns had a short meeting in preparation for day camp for the kids and we headed across the street to get ready.

I was told there could be anywhere from 15-30 kids and I guess it was a slow day because there were only about 15 that showed up. They started the day with lunch and then they started various projects such as drawing with sidewalk chalk, playing with a parachute, doing puzzles and other small projects. Then, around 2:00 a volunteer came and worked with the kids to make scrapbooks. A few of the kids didn't want to but once they started working on the scrapbooks they loved it.

Around 3:15 they took a short snack break and then again broke up into groups. This time they put on one of the greatest movies of all time, The Lion King, and another lady came in to teach the children crocheting. There were a few hiccups along the way, which is expected with children, but for the most part it was a good day. These children are the future of the neighborhood and by having a summer camp like this the children know that they are loved and will hopefully grow up to love one another and return the help to the neighborhood that they have received. I was talking with Gus who is one of the interns and he reflected on his own childhood and said that although his mother may not have thought she succeeded as a mother and thought that she should have placed more structure in his life, Gus looks back fondly upon his childhood and he has grown to be a wonderful guy who is full of love and wants to give back to his neighbor. This same idea can be applied to the summer camp. Although there may have been some rocky times, overall these children will look back on their summer and know that they were loved.

Looking back and reflecting on my short stay here I have learned a lot about Common Ground. I have witnessed how they address confrontation, how they run a board of directors meeting, how they sabbath, how they build each other up, and how they work with the children and homeless in the area. I hope to keep some contact with those here at Common Ground so that we can continue to learn from each other.

See How We Love By How We Resolve Conflicts

I arrived at Common Ground around 11:00 this morning and was greeted by Joey who welcomed me into the "brighthouse" and we talked a little bit before fixing some lunch. After eating we went over to the church across the street which I found out was a Methodist Church that had been closed and the UMC donated the building to Common Ground. The building needs a lot of work but the possibilities are endless. I met Gus there and he and Joey gave me a tour. Half the building is already being used for programs but the other half is much older and is only being used for storage at the moment. They also are in the midst of renovating the chapel which should be finished in the next few months.

After the tour they invited me to join their meeting for the children's summer program. Before the meeting they told me there had been a disagreement among some of the people who run the program and so the meeting could be a little uncomfortable. I told them I could step out but they said they wanted to be transparent and that there would be no better way to see how Common Ground loved than by seeing how they addressed conflicts within the community. In order to be respectful I will not go into detail about the conflict but I was impressed by the way most of those in meeting handled the situation.

One of the twelve marks of New Monasticism is "peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution along the lines of Matthew 18". One of the best reflections of love can be seen through how conflict is resolved. Those at Common Ground saw that there was a conflict and chose to bring it up to the group rather than let the conflict fester and possibly end up much worse than it did. I have a lot of respect for Common Ground for allowing me to sit in on that meeting and see how they approach conflict.

After the conflict was addressed they continued on with the meeting and planned the upcoming week and assigned roles to each of the interns. I was also impressed by how they chose the roles because each of the members seemed to step up to the roles that best suite their skills and gifts. I am fairly gifted with reading people and as each role came up I thought about which person could best fit each position and that person stepped up to the position. The other members then affirmed that the person would do a great job in that position and pointed out the gifts they saw in each person.

The day then continued with a bible study with a group from a church that works with Common Ground and we got back in time for a board of directors meeting. Common Ground further impressed me with their transparency by allowing me to sit in on the board of directors meeting as well. They talked about the various ministries that Common Ground has and how they can best optimize each of them. They also spoke of other ministries outside of Common Ground and how they could open up their space for others to use which reflects the humbleness of Common Ground. Some organizations try to micromanage everything that goes on and don't want to share their resources unless they perceive the partnership will benefit them. Instead, Common Ground is aware of their limits and empower individuals and other organizations to meet needs that they themselves might not be able to reach.

It was a packed day and there was much more that I could share but this post is already getting long and I am rather tired. I will do my best to post again tomorrow and will try to post more than once so that I can share a few more details than I did today.



Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yet Another Change in Plans

One thing I have kept in mind through this whole planning process is that I had to be flexible and ready for any change in plans. The latest change in plans is that Jonathan will unfortunately not be joining me on the trip. Instead, it will just be me, myself and I. As I write this blog post, the rental car sits packed up in the driveway ready for my journey. I'll be heading out bright and early to my first stop which will be Common Ground in Shreveport Louisiana.

I keep my life pretty busy but I choose to take it one day at a time. For this reason, I haven't really gotten too excited about the trip until now. When I would plan each stop and get in contact with the people at the communities I would get some excitement but it seemed so far away. Once I finished the itinerary (which actually wont be finished until the trip is finished) it began to feel real but there is a new since of reality that is setting in now that I am only about 9hrs from leaving.

It is my hope and prayer that this trip will be an informative and growing experience for all parties. This trip obviously has some selfish aspects to it on my parts but I truly hope that others will learn as well from this blog, any pictures or videos I take along the way, and from presentations I'll be making when I get back. I'm also going to sit down with Elaine, Larry and the rest of those involved with the Epworth Project to share my experiences. This trip never was intended for just me and so I look forward to sharing with others.

I will continue to be in prayer for all of those who have supported me through the planning process and I ask that you please continue to support me through prayer for safe travels and an open mind. Also, I would greatly appreciate it if you share this blog with others so that I can be certain this trip will not just be something for myself but that others can learn and grow with me in this journey. Please feel free to comment on the blog and I will do my best to respond to each comment.



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We Who Are Many Are One Body

Sorry for the long drought of posts but the next place that we have already confirmed with is Area 15 in Charlotte. I spoke shortly with someone from Area 15 but was not able to talk in detail with them about their community so this information is simply what I have gathered from their website.

Area 15 is a community of non-profits, small businesses and individuals who began forming around 2002. The diversity ranges from local artists (in the form of jewelers, painters, sculptors, tatoo artists, photographers, musicians etc) to bike re-cyclists to real estate agents and everything in between. They have various means of bringing all of these people into intentional community be it through their shared space in their 23,000 sq. ft. warehouse, community garden, 24hr prayer room, or local coffee shop.

This organization recognizes that each person plays a different role in society and each is vital in their own way. They do not try to influence the organizations or businesses to change but instead welcome them to enter into their community and learn from each other. You never know what input a sculptor might have on a bicycle re-cyclist, or a tattoo artist on a real estate agent, or a painter on a coffee shop. This organization seems to be a incubator of all things holy and they find ways to take what seems to others to simply be an occupation and they turn it into a vocation for building the kingdom.

I look forward to visiting this community. In reading about them and seeing the pictures it seems that the Spirit works in and through them in a unique and interesting way.



Saturday, June 4, 2011

What is Lvoe?

As I mentioned in my last post, I want to do a spotlight on each of the communities we will be visiting and so today I'm going to talk about what I know about Common Ground. I first must say that all I know is what I have gathered from their website but I want to do my best to paint a picture of the community so that A) people can get an idea of it and B) I can compare what I thought to what I experience when I go.

Common Ground is a group of couples and individuals living in the same neighborhood. They work together in the neighborhood to build relationships and to help those in need. They have six main ministries which are: Homework Help, Community Meal, Food Pantry, Clothing Room, Outdoor Friends, and Summer Day Camp. All of these ministries help to form relationship and meet felt needs.

I was listening to a podcast from John Perkins yesterday. It was from his introduction to the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conference and he talked about the need to not transform the world, country, state, or city but rather the importance of transforming the neighborhood. If someone truly wants to make a difference they need to start small. Margaret Mead once said "never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has". You see it's not that groups like Common Ground are necessarily setting out with the purpose of changing the world, it just could be a side-effect along the way. What they are committed to is to lvoe one another with a lvoe not based on merit or things owed but a lvoe given freely without expectation (lvoe is not a typo, see their website for more info).

When John Perkins was asked why he was living in a bad area he said he moved there because he believed that the children deserved the right to play in the streets without fear. He said that no child of his was going to go to a school where they had to have metal detectors. He moved into an "abandoned place of the empire" in order to bring life out of death. John Perkins always preached on the 3 R's which are Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation. I believe that Common Ground is also working with these 3 R's in mind and are working to better the neighborhood not simply for the sake of the neighborhood but for the sake of the individuals living there and for the sake of the Gospel.



P.S. I met with a film maker on Thursday and we had a great discussion. He is interested in our project and hopefully we can work out the details so that he and maybe a sound guy as well can come with us to document the trip. He will have full artistic freedom and so it will be interesting to see how his experience and vision of the trip differ from Jonathan and my experience and vision. We hope that we can make a full length documentary but regardless of the final project it will truly be a blessing. I will be sure to keep every body up to date on that side of things as well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Little Change in Plans

I initially wanted to do a spotlight on each community we plan on visiting but over the past couple of days we have heard back from five different locations so instead I'll just give a quick update on what we learned and what the schedule might look like now.

We first heard back from Koinonia and they said we could stay with them on the days we planned but they ask for a donation from each person. I am not sure if it is a "mandatory donation" but either way we are thinking about not visiting them since they are actually a bit out of our way. Instead we hope to visit Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA and have not contacted them yet. They are similar to Koinonia and were actually started by them and so we would get a lot of the same information we would from Koinonia.

The next conversation we had was with Mission Year. Jonathan and I talked with Caz who is the director of the Atlanta program and we got the opportunity to learn more about that program and the organizations in the area. She also told us about the Dwell Community which is part of the DOOR program and the Jubilee House in Atlanta (different from Jubilee partners in Comer). We hope to stay with one of the Mission Year houses and learn what they do as well as visit the other houses and get an idea of how their projects differ. They are all nearing the end of their time with Mission Year and so we should be able to get a good idea of how they spent their past year and how it shaped them.

After the conversation with Caz I called two other organizations which we hope to visit. Those organizations are Common Ground in Shreveport, LA and Area 15 in Charlotte, NC. Both of those organizations said yes and I hope to call them later to get a little more info on where we will be staying and learn a little more about their organizations.

A bit of bad news came last night when Leah from Rutba emailed me back saying they had a house meeting and they will not be able to host us. We are upset that we will not be able to meet with Leah, Jonathan, and the rest of the community of Rutba since they are so well known among the New Monastic circle but some of these places we are visiting have actually been around just as long and some longer than the Rutba House.

Five of seven (we are still waiting to hear from the Spencer Perkins Center) ain't too bad. We plan on spending a little more time in Atlanta in order to visit some of the additional communities I mentioned that are there and we may work in a full day of Sabbath at the midway point in order to catch up on sleep because chances are we are going to be so excited about learning about the communities that we will be trading off some sleep for conversations and relationships.

Things change and not everything works according to plan but this trip is entirely dependent on the generous hospitality of others and so we are more than willing to change our plan as needed. I also want to explain that Rutba is already housing a lot of people on the days we planned on visiting and they will also be working to plan a wedding for one of the residents so please don't think that their not welcoming us is any knock against their community. They do wonderful ministry and we hope to visit them some time in the future when they are not too busy.

As for now, we're adjusting the schedule and map and contacting a few more places in Atlanta. Even if we were to only visit the communities on our list (and even if a couple ended up having to drop off) I still feel this will be a great learning opportunity and hope we can share it with others.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Speaking of sharing it with others, I am meeting with a film maker tomorrow who may be willing to go with us. I'm not sure how much is any money he will be asking for but your prayers will be much appreciated around 9:00am tomorrow when I will be meeting with him.



Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hospitality is our Ministry not our Industry

On Wednesday Jonathan and I spoke with Anton from Alterna and they have graciously offered to welcome us on the days that we had planned (July 12 and 13). When we asked to make sure they would be willing to house us without any expected cost or donation (part of our trip is that we want to be entirely dependent on the hospitality of others) he said "hospitality is our ministry not our industry". This is the kind of places we're looking for! We had a wonderful conversation over the phone and were able to share a little about Bonhoeffer, the Epworth Project, and our summer trip with him and he shared a little bit about Alterna with us. From what I learned from that conversation and from reading about the community on their website I can tell that the Spirit is at work in full force there. They have many ministries but they all are working towards the purpose of "Christian missional living, welcoming the stranger and offering hospitality to Jesus who often visits (them) as an unauthorized immigrant from Latin America". I encourage you to check out their website and maybe even see how you might be able to help them and/or visit them.

Anton, his family, and the Alterna community practice radical hospitality and work towards rights for Latin immigrants. They do so through living in relation with immigrants, advocating for them in court cases, visiting those in prison, fighting to get those who are in prison out of prison, work towards changing unjust laws and passing just laws, training and teaching others, and much more but most importantly finding ways to do all of this in Christian Love. In any form of ministry it is important that you look at everyone as a brother and sister in Christ. Immigrants are not merely immigrants but they are humans and they our are brothers and sisters just as here at Bonhoeffer we make sure that "the homeless" are not merely "the homeless" but living breathing humans who are our brothers and sisters and it is out of privilege not obligation that we get to help them and in return they too help us.

Here is a video that shows a little about what they work towards.

We found out that the two days that Jonathan and I will be there are quite possibly the best 2 days that we could visit. It was not intentional but just seemed to work out. On the night we get there they will be having a community meal followed by a bible study and the next morning they will be having community prayer and scripture reading. Anton told us that Tuesday and Wednesday really are the 2 best days to see the community and the Spirit at work.

In addition to learning about their community and sharing about ours, Anton also put us in contact with  a few other places close to Alterna and close to Atlanta. One of the places we already plan on visiting, Mission Year, actually sends their married couples to Alterna as a joint project. Because of this, Anton gave us a few names to contact and now Jonathan and I have another phone conversation with Caz Tod on Tuesday Morning.

This trip is really falling into place and we are grateful for the hospitality each community is offering us. We can't wait to see what God has in store for this experience.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We Have Contact

Jonathan and I have made contact with our first location. We wanted to first contact the Rutba House since they are our turn-around point and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is one of the leading voices in New Monasticism. I emailed them and Leah Wilson-Hartgrove got back with me to let me know that the inn is full but could possibly make some room for us in the manger (ok so it's in the dining room not the manger).

She also let us know that JWH will be getting in on Sunday evening so he will not be preaching Sunday mornings as we had hoped. He also usually takes is first day back to catch up with the kids and with house matters (as he should) and so our interactions with him and time to interview him will be limited. Throw in the fact the are helping a resident of Rutba with a wedding the following week and you get a house that as Leah says "may not be at their best 'hosting' capacity". She still, however, was willing to bring it up at their next house meeting next Monday and hopefully will be willing to let us stay and document a little of what they do there. If we are able to stay even in the midst of the craziness I think it will be a true reflection of their hospitality.

I will be contacting the other organizations we hope to visit today and will be sure to keep people updated. We will be meeting Thursday with a film maker who he himself will not be able to join us but is willing to give his advice and pass along the info to other film makers who may be interested.

I have already received great support by many people who have been giving us contacts. Keep the contacts and the prayers coming. We have faith that this will be a wonderful experience and it is slowly but surely falling into place.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Vision for this Summer

For the first time in a long time I have a summer entirely free. I began thinking of different things I could do and various places I could visit when I thought about visiting a New Monastic Community or two. I live in the Bonhoeffer House here in Dallas TX and so I am curious to see what other models of New Monasticism look like. The first two places that came to mind were the Rutba House and Simple Way. These communities are best known for their residents Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne respectively. I thought about making a road trip up to Philly where Simple Way is and stopping in Durham to visit the Rutba House on the way. As I began to look at how long the trip was I also realized that there are numerous New Monastic Houses on the way to and from Philly and so I should try to stop at some of them as well. I called to share my idea with Dr. Elaine Heath, a professor of evangelism at Perkins and the driving force behind the Epworth Project. After talking with her I sat down with the other guys at Bonhoeffer to see if they would want to join me in this journey. Jonathan quickly hopped on board and George and Adam may be joining us for at least part of the trip.

We have played around with the dates and the locations numerous times but as of now we plan to leave July 10th and return on July 23rd. The places we hope to visit are Common Ground in Shreveport, LA, Alterna in LaGrange, GA, Koinonia Farms in Americus, GA, Area 15 in Charlotte, NC, Rutba House in Durham, NC, Mission Year in Atlanta, GA, and the Perkins Center in Jackson MS. We chose a rather diverse group of New Monastic Houses and communities in hopes to find new models but hopefully find a central theme of living intentionally with a foundation of Christ's love.

The next aspect of this trip that came to us was to document it. We are really excited about all that we will be learning and so we want to share the knowledge with others. This blog will serve as part of the documenting process but we also hope to make a documentary. This is where you can come in. None of us have any skills nor equipment in order to make this documentary a reality. If you or anyone you know makes films and can do so on a low budget then we would love you to have them contact us, or give us their contact info. We would also appreciate any other form of support such as: gas cards, recording equipment, editing equipment/skills, cash money, prayers, or just passing on the info by sharing this blog.