This is a unique blog post-- more of a letter to you all really. I know it's lengthy, but please bear with me. I need something from you— not money or support— just your ears. I have a story that I need to share.
A couple months before graduation I was incredibly shocked and thankful to find a job after a text from a friend. I filled out an application between cups of coffee at 1 am, and before my 8 o’clock class the next morning.
I doubted I would get this job. The timing seemed off because I was still a few months away from graduating and it required translating which is a constant insecurity for me no matter how much I know or learn.
The next day, I threw on my favorite pair of ripped jeans and rushed off to classes completely forgetting about the job until my phone rang during class.
They wanted me to come in for an interview… in an HOUR.
I skipped lunch, rushed to TJ Maxx to find something professional, changed in the car and made it to the interview, anxious, unprepared and clammy. At the conference room table, they told me I was hired. I wasn’t sure I had heard them right. Nonetheless, December 1st, a week before finals were over, I began working full time.
I started hearing about things like 401K’s, benefits, and retirement more than I ever had in my life.
I began a job that encompassed so many of my passions. I became better at translating and learned a lot about teaching English and the school system. My heart started breaking when the kids began to tell me their stories.
Irene was first. We were sitting at the computers in the classroom defining words from her classes that she didn't understand.
"It means hurting in your heart about something," I told her, “sufrimiento”
Her big brown eyes got a little bigger, but I couldn't have known what was coming.
“I have a suffering,” she said in her cute little English.
I dared to let her continue and she told me of the trips back and forth from Mexico to Chicago. She told me of her father who abused her older sister, and then left.
“But I know it is my fault,” she said in Spanish as the big tears leaked from her eyes, because that is what he told her and what 11-year-old doesn't believe her father?
Her fault?!? What adult tells an innocent child this about his own selfish abuse? There was so much injustice in it all, I wasn’t even sure what to think.
I can’t really remember what I said to her— I probably choked out something about that not being true, but in that moment everything just got blurry.
I forgot all the other kids laughing and talking in the classroom.
And as I cried for Irene driving home from work that day, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for this life, but my heart wasn’t giving me an option.
That continued and multiplied for months. Stories like Irene's became more common. Eventually, I was hearing these stories back to back all day. Before I knew it, I had so many that I didn’t know where to file them in my heart. I would leave work with a mother crying to me about her family being deported, a girl who couldn’t get over flashbacks of her uncle being shot, kids failing because they don't speak the language, and a boy asking me why the other kids keep calling him [ insert a plethora of profanity ] that he doesn't understand.
Then I would get in my car with my head spinning and leave that world for my midtown home with roommates and groceries from Kroger. I would sit there frozen wondering how it is possible to drive between such different worlds in just 15 minutes.
Eventually these things build up in you, and you drive home with glazed eyes because your bursting with stories. And of course it would be healthy for you to write them down, but they just start coming out it bursts to unsuspecting friends and family usually accompanied by tears or intense frustration. Evenings are exhausting so you just binge in front of mindless TV or crawl in bed with pizza and don't get out until its time to start again at 6 am tomorrow.
Although I knew this was becoming unhealthy, and I was ceasing to help in my own overloaded empathetic emotional exhaustion, I wanted to continue because of passion or drive or something else, I’m not really sure.
But the last day of school, I found out that I wasn't going to have to make a decision, it was being made for me. In that moment I could be angry at the people who didn’t do their job to make sure my papers were in order.
Deep inside, I was, but I knew that I also had to be thankful because I was literally in over my head. I had to stop and something higher than someones mistake had stopped me.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9
I know this is true to the depth of my being and even when it's hard, I have seen it to be true too many times to doubt.
I don’t know where I am headed right now. I don't know if I am going back to the place of all these stories. I don’t know what ministry looks like for me.
I do know that I am bursting with stories. Not stories from some faraway tribe in Africa or Central America where I usually find them, but from right here in my country, in my city— in OUR city. They are changing me, these stories. They are also eating me up inside and I have to get them out.
Loving the poor, the needy and forgotten looks so different for each of us, but we can't help anyone if we don't know. I am still reeling in from the shock of how much need actually exists so close to my house,
I’m not asking you for anything except to read these stories; to just let your eyes be opened to the realities-- both heartbreaking and beautiful-- right here in the US. I need a space to share these stories, and I hope you will take a few moments for the next few weeks and hear them.
I always said I would never write a post about politics, but nevertheless, here I am. My hope is that instead of forcing my personal stances at you, the stories will soften your heart and allow you to think a little deeper or from a more real-life perspective.
This is the third in a series of posts exploring the issues of social justice. I don't claim to be an expert, and this isn't really an academic resource, but rather a collection of stories-- a few beating hearts and faces to the flat and emotionless statistics we are all sick of.
She is only 11-years-old, living in the United States, and she is terrified.
She worries about things I only began to think about as an adult— presidential elections, foster care and gang violence.
“Why does he hate us, Ms. Johnson?” a 6th grader asked me the other day.
I had no answer, because it is obvious one of our presidential candidates doesn’t see the deep value of hispanic lives. And how do you tell that to a child who is so full of culture— and trying desperately to learn English and be more “American."
“Tiene papeles, Ms. Johnson? [ do you have papers? ] ” another child asked me.
They can’t even comprehend the life of a normal child because theirs is so defined by their immigration status-- the status that they didn’t even choose.
“Do you have papers, Ms. Johnson?” another child asked me.
“I’m just scared of him, because I will have to move into a foster home if he becomes president,” said a child who was born in the US, and is therefore legal, unlike her parents.
I know you are sick of seeing parodies and posts and jokes about this man and walls and immigration— but for some, these things define their very livelihood. It the thought of them living oppressed by a president who doesn’t see them as valuable. For innocent [ and legal ] children, it means some of their parents being taken away.
I come home everyday with my heart breaking from their stories wondering how I got so lucky-- how I am a citizen of America with family who won’t be taken from me, and mostly how I don’t deserve it at all.
I tell my friends in America I head to Honduras in a few days and they praise my humanitarian act, but the boy from Guatemala's big eyes looking up at me, asking if I will fly in an real airplane bring me back to earth.
He came to the US from Guatemala to reunite with his family, but it cost all of their money. His parents are illiterate and they drove 3,500 miles in various cars. Airplanes are an idealistic thought reserved only for the privileged.
It took two weeks, he told me, through Guatemala and Mexico and Texas and Arkansas. He is brilliant and already speaks Mam, in addition to Spanish, but in America he is seen as a burden to our society. I watch him practicing over and over his list of English words. I see his eyes light up when he hears that he can go to college here. He wants to be a teacher. He wants to speak English.
Choosing your stance on any issue, especially immigration, is difficult and complicated and it has to be personal. Your worldview, your view of God, your experiences— I think it all comes into play.
One of my favorite resources is World Relief. They work primarily with refugees, empowering them to be members of society simultaneously giving Americans the opportunity to help them adjust to a new culture through friendships. They do a great job of showing how the Americans benefit and learn just as much as the refugees or immigrants-- beginning to deplete the "us-and-them" mindset.
Welcoming the Stranger is a book by Matthew Sorens and Jenny Hwang, staffers at World Relief who provide a great overview of the immigration crisis, justice and the response of the Church. This is a great book because it’s coming from people who don’t just sit at a desk, but rather work on the front lines with an organization that is mobilizing people to make personal and tangible differences in the lives of immigrants right here in our cities. No one is saying anything about opening up the borders to everyone, but they also aren’t talking about building walls [ metaphorically or physically ].
Where do you even begin with social justice? Immigration, trafficking, death penalty, disease, education, health care… they all come with a hundred different opinions and stances and perspectives. Anyone can prove anything, either way. There are so many statistics and news stories that it's almost impossible to know what is true or right. [ a very basic overview of some relevant issues ]
This is the second in a series of posts exploring the issues of social justice. I don't claim to be an expert, and this isn't really an academic resource, but rather a collection of stories-- a few beating hearts and faces to the flat and emotionless statistics we are all sick of.
Then again, a lot of times there are multiple solutions, and there is a lot to be gained from difficulty. Moreover, while we tunnel our vision thinking we have it all figured out and that our society was or is the picture of what should be, we best think again.
John 16 says that sorrow is the crucible of joy. Without pain and struggle we won’t ever fully experience the fullness of joy here on earth. This joy comes not instead of trial, but through it. [you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy John 16: 20 ]
I love Jesus because of poverty.
I know that sounds weird and insensitive, but it’s true. The faith, contentment, love, and desperation I saw in an impoverished community changed my view of God. A lot of people see poverty and wonder how a loving God could truly exist. In poverty I see Jesus because I see people who know their need for a higher being.
Their createdness for worship.
and their humbleness that manifests the truest love.
It’s in places like America that bring me to doubt— how so many people can claim a god they only see occasionally. There is no dependence or mystically close spirituality— but rather loud prayers, Facebook posts and tv programs. It's the ones who trust for their very well being, their next meal and their childrens' education that know God with an intimacy we all long for.
She rode the bus with all the other students from their impoverished Honduran neighborhoods for a "fun day" with the North American mission team. It was the end of my first week out of America and my head was spinning with statistics and what I saw out my window as we drove through the city. I knew most of these kids were lucky to get one meal a day.
Social justice must start with grace— grace in bringing justice to imperfect people. Grace for all the people who have confused or messed up your mission under the guise of helping [ why you should consider canceling your short-term mission trip ] and grace for yourself when your goals are just too big and you feel like a failure.
This is the first of a series of posts exploring the issues of social justice. I don't claim to be an expert, and this isn't really an academic resource, but rather a collection of stories-- a few beating hearts and faces to the flat and emotionless statistics we are all sick of.
Because before we ever even begin to help, we have to accept that we will never fix the problem or save the world and thankfully we aren't called to that.
We need grace as our plans go awry; when we plan to save a hundred people and end up helping just one. There is grace for us.
The Bible says to love, to sacrifice, to give, and to pray, but says nothing about obliterating problems of justice in the entire world. Poverty will never end. Abuse and bondage will continue. People will believe false doctrines of legalism and personal justification. All of that is heartbreaking, but that isn't the battle we’re fighting. We have to fight on a personal level. One person at a time.
Here's what I mean.
For example, the education system in our country is in a bit of a mess (which is another issue for another time). In my city, gifted and passionate teachers complain about a system that doesn't meet the needs of their students, their demographic or their culture. Very simply stated, the government creates an education system that looks pretty great on paper. It covers all the bases and supposedly no one is left behind— on paper.
The problem? People. Real people, stuck in a whole lot of different realities. These systems, regardless of such good intentions can't possibly account for the plethora of learning disabilities, learning styles, and complicated home lives.
A system doesn't know how to help a little girl who was born in Chicago but moved back to Mexico for 8 years and shows back up in middle school only half literate in each language.
All this to say, helping people is messy. Any type of justice is complicated and unfortunately never really follows a system. Plans look great on paper, but often crumble to the ground when they meet people. If you live only by numbers and checklists you will burn out in frustration, but if we start with love, accept grace over our inabilities and imperfections, and focus first on the real needs of real people-- it sure won't be easy, but it might just be a place to start.
The king will reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
I have so many stories to tell, I don't really know where to begin.
Yesterday, I met a little boy whose dad is the leader one of the largest, most violent gangs in Honduras. I met a kindergartener whose mother and father are always strung out on drugs and/or alcohol. He can't be taken to the orphanage because they wont give up custody. And of course— there is no foster care, or child services— only government run orphanages—overcrowded and underfunded.
I don't know how to deal with these kinds of things. Especialy when I will go home next week to a family who loves me, to food in my pantry, a community of believers, safety from violence, and hope for an education and a future.
Over these past couple months, I raised more than the money I needed for this trip. Friends, family, and people I have never even met have wrapped around this cause and I am completely overwhelmed.
One thing I know is that this trip isn't about me. It isn't about one week of doing good.
It is about a God that tells us to “love the least of these,” to “visit the widows and the orphans, a God who tells us to serve rather than be served.
While literally hundreds of people have made this trip possible, I have the incredible opportunity to be the vessel of their support. Each of them are just as much a part of this as I am, and that leaves me so humbled and grateful.
So in 18 hours I will get on that plane and head to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I will love and work and serve. And in 7 days I will come back home.
Last October I decided that I wanted to study abroad. It seemed like a great opportunity to spend my Spring semester in another country and to learn Spanish.
I spent weeks praying about whether or not it was the right thing. I felt like it was a choice between studying abroad or doing a long mission trip in the summer. Doing both seemed impossible due to time and money.
Learning Spanish or serving in a Spanish-speaking country? How are you supposed to choose between two dreams? But I did decide. I decided to study abroad in the Spring and save the missionary thing for another time.
However, there were some issues with my classes and my study abroad had to be pushed to the Fall. It was a let down to say the least. I was stuck in America for another nine months, but I had no idea what was those next nine months would hold.
Surprise #1: During spring break, I led a college team on a trip with POI to Honduras. After months of stressing over fundraising, airline tickets, planning and meetings we hopped on a plane and spent a week that I wouldn't take back for anything. I watched my 12 friends gifts shine as they served with such selflessness. In the weeks following that trip, we cried over bowls of oatmeal, walks to class, and coffee dates. Each of our hearts were forever broken and changed over the poverty we saw and a culture so different from our own.
That week brought new relationships bound together with a deep passion for the “least of these.” Relationships that continue to bring encouragement to keep serving, loving and sharing.
Surprise # 2: One week wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to go back and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I didn't have the money or the time, but I did it anyways. I asked if I could go back for one month, live in the girls orphanage, and write about what I saw. Well, one month turned into two that changed my life forever. That summer I experienced some of my most painful dark nights alone, broken over the pain that surrounded me, confused as to why I was there, and overwhelmed at the never-ending need. But I also experienced overwhelming joy as I saw smiles on dirty faces, squeaky Spanish voices calling my name, and prostitutes finding a new hope.
I came home a different person. Broken-- with eyes opened to something so much bigger than myself.
* * *
I leave for my Fall study abroad trip in the morning. Its a difficult transition and in many ways, I’m too caught up in this whirlwind to be ready to leave again.
But as I look back at the Lords quiet faithfulness, I am in awe. My frustrating messed up plans turned into more than I could have ever imagined.
There is always a purpose in the pain and in the confusion. There is a purpose on those days where its all just too overwhelming to process, and on the days that are all smiles and joy.
I’m reminded of this beautiful, yet often overused and misunderstood verse:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I can make it through the hard days and the seasons that don't make sense because I have something so much higher and so much greater.
Now read this verse one more time, but in its context:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
Never give up hope, and never forget that there is always a purpose.
I’m in a weird place in life right now. Its been nearly two months since I left Honduras. In 3 days I leave for 3 months in Costa Rica, but my heart is still as broken and confused as ever.
What is life supposed to look like here in light of what I saw, felt, and experienced there?
How do I justify buying anything when children are dying of hunger, when families sleep night after night in the dirty desolation of the dump, and when so many don't understand the fact that there is a God who loves them in spite of their brokenness— someone whose love surpasses anything they could ever do and who wishes to lavish their mistakes, shortcomings and failures with grace…if only someone would tell them.
Its easy to get so frustrated about these things that I become counterproductive. Worrying more than I share, thinking more than I pray, and judging more than I love.
Its been awhile since I've sat down to write. Processing being back in the States has been harder than I ever imagined. I think there are some things that you can never un-see.
But I wouldn't want it any other way.
I want my heart to be broken over whats happening all over the world. I have lived my whole life in a bubble thinking that my way was best, and not really worrying about the fact that there is inhumane suffering, pain, poverty, persecution and injustice taking place over much of our world, right now, while we live in luxury.
One thing I learned to accept in Honduras was that I can’t make a dent in the poverty epidemic. Not in Honduras— not anywhere. I asked myself this question on many nights as I lay in bed with so many unprocessed sights and stories I couldn't shake.
Why even try to help if it doesn't really make a difference?
But then I realized that just helping one person— although no one will ever notify the UN or award me a nobel peace prize— that is the kind of difference I want to make.
One person at a time.
One heart broken heart. One need.