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.