I woke up to their wide eyes.
“Did you see the news?” they asked in Spanish
“The gangs have raided houses again…they came in with guns and lots of men and forced the families out of their houses in the middle of the city. Some of my family lives close to there.”
Wait, again? I thought. This has happened before and no one does anything? What about the police? How can you work hard at your job, buy a nice house with your family, and whenever the gangs decide, they can just take it away?
I had so many questions, but I shouldn't have been surprised. The paper was full of this graphic news every day, soaked in blood and injustice.
But I was only there for a visit. I was safe… because I'm American; because I can stay in a neighborhood with 24 hour security.
This is REALITY for many who live in Central America. Hear it from someone living there.
There is little rest or payoff for your hard work. Gangs run rampant and families fear for their children.
Imagine laying in bed at night and wondering when they will come in with machetes and guns, thinking about how you can go from middle class to homeless within minutes.
So you escape. You run with your family to a place that maybe you can rest, so that you can work hard and support them. You long to be a citizen, but that takes many years and you may not live that long.
So you come and you work. Their government doesn't want you there, but they still give you a tax ID number. So you pay into social security you will never benefit from, and work a job for less than average and are filled with joy. You sleep at night in peace.
You have another child, who is a US Citizen because of where they are born. They go to school and speak English.
Then, there is a new fear.
America doesn't want you here, just like your government who never seemed to care.
You hear that they are knocking on doors and pulling over people who look like you. So you begin to sleep in fear again.
And eventually they come to your door and you're sent to a prison in Louisiana. Your wife comes home to an empty house. Wondering how she will support the family, and when her time will come.
Your kids have panic attacks at school when you are 5 minutes late, because no one is too young for this reality, and any day they could become an orphan.
And one day your wife is taken too, but not your American-born kids. They come home to an empty house, terrified. But they know the plan… raise each other. Stick together.
Whatever your side of the debate, this is reality. It’s happening right here in Memphis.
Maybe you think these people deserve this.
But what about all the actual humans involved? What about all the complexities and exceptions? What about their children?
How can those of us who grew up in safe homes with parents have any idea?
Politics are messy and that isn’t even what this is about. This is about people.
We, as Americans, have a lot of decisions to make.
We, as the Church, have a lot of decisions to make.
What will we do with those left behind?
Will we cover our eyes? Will we tell them they deserve it? Will we welcome them, love them, and care for them?
We have a choice.
Read more about what is happening.
In light of recent events, it is very clear that we are not “fine.”
There is deep brokenness, naivety, disunity, and injustice in our country and in our city.
I feel this desperate need to just do something. I’ve prayed, talked, read and repeated the process over and over again.
I know that because of my ethnicity, most of what is happening in our country is nearly impossible for me to comprehend.
I am trying to listen to stories and tell stories over and over again because the problems in our world are so much more human than they are political.
I pray that we will see people before statistics,
beating hearts before policies,
and that we will use compassion before judgement.
I don't know what exactly this will look like. However, I hope that through stories, we will see the complexity of issues that may seem far removed from our everyday lives. I hope that we will begin to think before we judge. I hope that we will show grace to ourselves and others as we seek to learn how others feel.
I was only 16, and in Honduras where nothing made sense anymore-- not my life at home or the pain and poverty I was seeing everywhere.
I was silently dreading the night we had dinner with the prostitutes. What was I supposed to talk to them about when we don't even speak the same language?
And we sat next to Doris whose eyes looked at us so longingly. She kept complimenting my friend Hannah's shoes and she took them off and gave them to her, walking around barefoot in the rocky courtyard.
I wanted to do something, but felt so utterly overwhelmed and unqualified to do or say anything. I struggled through the whole dinner until I finally just decided to pray for this lady I had never met. It was probably a horrible prayer. But I sobbed and she cried, and she went home to a life of prostitution and I went home to America.
She gave her new son up for adoption-- that unbelievably selfless woman. She was diagnosed with AIDS. She began seeking God.
Although barely older than me, she looked like she had lived many lives.
It was almost six years later when I saw her again. At the church surrounded by gravel, she wobbled in with a cane and I barely recognized her. She was wearing a plastic bag as underwear and had massive gaping wounds on her hips.
Why, God? Why is this her life and not mine?
She began coming to the church more and getting care. She sold little candies to make money and lived in a tiny apartment that was dangerous and smelled like urine. It was essentially a tiny concrete box with no bed.
I gave her blankets, pillows, soaps, lotion, and other necessities. The next week she had nothing. She had given it all away.
"They needed it more," Doris said. She spoke quickly with a strong accent that made her hard to understand.
Today Doris passed away.
My heard aches and breaks, but it also rejoices to know that she is no longer hurting.
I am forever thankful for teachers in life like her and a hundred others.
Teachers of brokenness. Teachers of selflessness. Teachers of faith.
It has been a season of hands off ministry— of office work and spreadsheets. Sometimes I wonder why ministry looks so different in each season.
I found this excerpt that I wrote less than a year ago:
I know you say not to worry, but it’s hard to not worry when I’m not the one that will be hurt
I read this and am filled again with emotion. I want to fight. I want to go into the trenches.
However, so much of fighting is planning and so much of bringing change is the slow tedious work of sharing story after story.
I pray that we will fight together for justice, but that we will never forget how difficult and tedious that fight really is. I hope we will not give up when loving the least of these looks like spreadsheets and emails. I hope we will not lose heart when we tell the same stories over and over again with no response.
And I hope that most of all that we will never forget that God is justice and we are not fighting alone.
I have heard a lot about walls this past year.
This week in Honduras, my mom and cousin mentioned how strange it was that every building is completely covered by high walls with barbed wire or shards of glass and nails. You slide back the big metal doors to find beautiful courtyards, clean houses, and normal-looking people.
"Why all the walls," people always ask.
Safety? To keep out the bad?
But is there more to it? Is it also to not have to sip your piping coffee while staring at the lady begging for money or the barefoot children? Is it so that the houses sliding off the mountain aren't in the background of the kids playing in the back yard?
Because on either side of every wall here is a different world.
But I don't have a wall around my apartment. I have them in my heart-- built like little mazes separating the atrocities, the pain, and needs. Don't we all?
We see the homeless on East Parkway and think about them until we have driven far enough to forget.
Sometimes it's the wall of "that's just the way it is."
Sometimes the wall of "it's not my job."
Sometimes the wall of "I don't have time."
Or the wall of "I wasn't called to this."
Here's my problem. Sometimes I knock all the walls down after a trip abroad. I let everyone in without question. I want to fix everything and give to everyone and I run out of time and energy and am left exhausted. But some boundaries are good. They are needed.
Walls don't ask questions. They ignore. They take away humanity. They keep you from seeing. Boundaries still let you see.
I know I can't change the homelessness problem. I can't fix violence or low graduation rates. I can't find jobs for everyone or help every refugee. I can't solve racism or immigration.
But I want to see them. I want to see that not everyone lives like me. Not everyone is safe. Not everyone is accepted by culture.
I want to pray for more than just the people I know.
I want to go into my city with eyes open. I want to make my own tiny difference with everything I have, but I never want to forget how much bigger the hurt and need and pain are than me.
I never want to close my eyes. And I never want to forget that God is bigger, and that God sees. I want to see what he sees and be broken over what breaks him.
No more walls.
Riding around in the back seat of Zarco’s [our security guard] car, everything felt so new any exciting. We stopped to get gas and I marveled at how someone came and pumped it for us. I stared out the window with no idea where we were. I babbled in English.
Even the most ordinary things felt exciting.
I lived in the moment because every moment seemed like the most exciting one.
That summer in Honduras was a long time ago.
And here I take the same street to work every day, and go to the same gas station, and same grocery store. I wish I could drive faster, and that the gas light didn’t pop on at such inconvenient times.
But yesterday I picked up three Nepali women who just began working where I work. They live right in my neighborhood and I had never met them.
Driving down Poplar Avenue seemed a little more exciting through their eyes as they babbled in Nepali.
Walking into work their eyes were big and excited. They taught me how to say “Āja kāma” [work today] on the way there and we said it over and over.
That is how I felt walking into those POI offices. The Honduran staff typed away at their outdated computers, calculated budgets, planned sermons, and drank this disgusting coffee that was brewed with sugar… and I loved every bit of it. I sat in there so inspired to change the world.
Bishnu, Dil, and and Kali seemed ready to change the world yesterday— with their little purses, bananas and limited English.
These ladies are serving in much different circumstances that I ever have. They aren’t on a summer long trip, but rather a forced relocation. They have no return ticket home, but yet they have a wonder, optimism and excitement that fades in my heart so quickly.
Impacting the world can happen from wherever, it just tends to feel more impactful with my passport in my back pocket.
I want to make an impact right where I am, because even the most exotic places become routine if you stay there long enough.
I am so very thankful for Point of Impact and their incredible staff who have taught me so much about living a life of mission. I am also so very thankful for Be Free Revolution and the opportunity to work for such an amazing organization that opens my eyes everyday to the things culture lulls me to ignore.
Le agradezco a las personas de POI que me han enseñado sobre el amor de Dios, ministerio y ayudando lo de más. Gracias por trabajar cada día sin reconocimiento ni riqueza... solo por Dios.
Rest is for the lazy, the low capacity, and the underachievers.
Rest is for those who have to stop because they can’t handle the busyness.
That couldn’t possibly be me because I LOVE the busy and rest makes me antsy.
Overwhelmed in ministry
Overwhelmed in routine
Overwhelmed by stories
Overwhelmed by the world
Theme word of my life. It's usually one of the first phrases in my journal or blog posts. It often comes out of my mouth right before the Ben and Jerry’s goes in. It flows through my prayers and into my questions.
A few times I wondered if that was normal, then I just accepted it. Busy and overwhelmed— that is life in America. End of story.
Then I heard a sermon that stirred my heart, but I pushed the idea of a sacred Sabbath rest out of my head because it seemed counter cultural and impossible.
I passed a book in the bookstore by a favorite author about Sabbath a few months ago. I picked it up.
The title, Breathe.
That must be nice, I thought. But who really has time for that?
I quickly left the bookstore empty handed, but wondered why my Sunday afternoons of laying on the couch did nothing for me on Monday morning.
I ran across this quote from a guest blogger on one of my favorite blogs:
For some, brackets of time alone on a park bench to journal the sights, sounds, and smells of a wide expanse in nature is an illustration of extravagant wastefulness. Or a lavish indulgence allotted those who are retired from work life.
That made so much sense to me. I feel the most alive and rested not after crashing on the couch, eating fast food, or watching TV, but when there is quiet. I rest when I truly connect with God. I rest when the buzzing of the phone, the ticking of the clock, and the nagging of the to do list are pushed aside.
I rest when my mind wanders as it is doing now with the pecks of my fingers on this keyboard letting the words go where they want and create what they may. For me, rest is letting go of all of the expectations and plans just for a little bit.
But I am the worst person to be talking about Sabbath.
I am absolutely terrible at it and have been for a long time.
I look around at so many who gladly accept this beautiful gift from God and enjoy it in every way he intended without the guilt or obligation or questions that tower over me.
But I am learning one tiny, tiny, tiny step at a time.
-- Antonyms for "unity."
The division, tribalism, and judgement are so prevalent this week. We don't need another political post or opinion or reason. However, I think there are some hearts longing for unity-- some hearts waiting to be brought together through prayer.
"I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
[ Ephesians 4:1-3 emphasis added ]
"Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God's goodness and control over the situation. The meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend against injustice."
-Blue Letter Bible Definition
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."
[Ephesians 4:29-31 ]
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."
[ Ephesians 4:32 ]
"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." 1 Peter 3:8-9
"But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (vs. 15 emphasis added)
There is unity in knowing God despite our political and social opinions.
We long to see people the way you see them, not grouped together by tribalism.
Help us remember what is truly important in this life.
Let us use our words, our influence, and our short time here on earth to bring light to the things that matter most.
This is not our home.
We seek to love rather than judge and ask questions rather than resent.
We seek to listen more.
Whether this week brings celebration or mourning or confusion or relief or fear-- may we show respect for the emotions it brings in others that we don't understand.
-- Synonyms for "unity."
I pray that we will seek unity.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
[ John 14:27 ]
I have thought a lot about Luz lately. She is my sponsor child's grandmother and guardian.
Sponsoring a child, you know, the advertisement on the sidebar of your Facebook or the booths at Christian conferences. Phrases like, change a life for $40 a month.
I see Luz in a unique way. Maybe it's because one time she almost had to pick my hair for lice (apparently he is a pro delouser) or because I finally understood the gospel because of her and her friends.
The smell of Pine Sol today made me think of her. I was mopping the floor-- not the most glamorous job for a college grad, nonetheless, the Pine Sol, mop and bucket of water smelled just like Luz. She cleans the programs where her granddaughter goes to school. It is her dream job. She prays while she mops, and she listens to the kids stories of pain and violence.
As I mop I think of her.
I think of how I will barely do this job for what they pay me, but she did it as a volunteer for almost 2 years.
I don't know if I have really helped Luz that much with my tiny donations, but she has helped me. She is an inspiration, a challenge and a mystery to me. How does she go home to the gun shots every night, rest her tired dirty feet in her less than elegant home in that neighborhood where I'm not allowed to go anywhere without security guards.
How does she wake up and thank God everyday? I wonder if she has more to thank him for than me. And maybe that is because she depends on him for more.
Do I really need God any less than her?
Does my college degree, American passport, insurance policy, job stability, or socioeconomic status make me any less desperate?
Are there different levels of Christian-- the ones who trust him most deeply for 'traveling mercies' and the ones who trust him most deeply for survival?
Thinking a lot lately about what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus and why it seems to look so different depending on context. I've always thought we were the most blessed nation because of all the freedom and money. And surely we are incredibly blessed for so many reasons, but is it really all good? Does the freedom of religion mean we actually deeply experience God? Does the abundance of "things" really bring us contentment and thankfulness?
I have written a lot lately about the the fight for justice.
Sometimes we go through seasons immersed in ministry. Times when all we see is need. There is something very cleansing and life-giving, and all the while exhausting, about giving your everything in service to the Lord each day and coming to him completely empty in need of being filled up to give out again. It is almost a surreal place of feeling so intimate and in sync with God.
Unfortunately most of us aren’t at that place now.
What do you do when you're heart desires to help, but you just feel stuck inside the office and the mission is out there? You crash every night of exhaustion already, so how could you possibly add this pouring out of your life?
So this is a question that I am asking myself lately.
Is it wrong for us to have normal lives?
But then, what is normal anyways?
For my friends in Honduras who follow Jesus and come from some of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in America, normal is sitting at the table praying God will provide dinner. Normal is orphans running through the streets. Normal is working hard everyday for a meager paycheck, hiding from the gang violence and praying against extortion. Normal is their friends’ home [that they spent their lives working for] taken over by a gang while they and their kids are thrown into the street, because the gang liked the house and is above the corrupt legal system. Normal is praying everyday that God would protect their family and friends.
My idea of normal is living in a mostly safe part of town. Normal is not thinking about hunger, just eating dinner. Normal is passing a homeless man at a red light and telling myself he will probably spend it on unhealthy habits and avoiding eye contact until the light turns green. Normal is being tired from work and spending money on fun things with friends. Normal is ice cream at midnight because I have had a long day and I should “treat myself.” Normal is assuming my family is always safe. Normal is not praying a lot because everything is normal.
It’s a pretty typical American-reality. Let’s just be honest, this normal isn’t even on the high end of American-extravagance.
So at the end of the day, I wonder why this kind of normal leaves me looking for something more, but it leaves my friends in Honduras on their knees in prayer.