Month: August 2017

I Cannot Waste My Breath

I feel like it’s only appropriate for me to start out by introducing myself. So, Hi! I am Parker Barnes. I am a rising sophomore at Campbell University where I study Communications and Christian Ministry. I found Raleigh Youth Mission when Katherine Blankenship came to Campbell’s connections, which is kinda like chapel, but cooler, and told us about what she does in downtown Raleigh. I immediately knew that I wanted in. I had, just the weekend prior, been talking to my mom about how I had been praying about what God wanted me to do over the summer. I was pretty much a dead tie between interning at a nonprofit and being a camp counselor. So when Katherine gave her talk at connections I knew RYM was for me. I walked my smiling and joy filled self up to the stage and told Katherine with confidence “RYM is what God wants me to do this summer.” Katherine, probably freaked out said, “well the application will be out soon.” And from then on I knew that I would be spending my summer in downtown Raleigh.

I have always been a thinker and so when I went through a difficult time in 2015 I handled that no differently. I thought about it A LOT. I went through a time where I was unsure about the legitimacy of who Jesus was, although I had grown up with both parents working in the Methodist Church. I mean y’all, my parents met in seminary and my first word was “amen,” needless to say, no one ever thought that I would doubt who Jesus was. But I did, just like most people do. I questioned if God was good, if God was for me, if God really was all that people say God is. Yet, through all of this questioning, God was not offended, in fact God used it for his glory and for my good (Oh what a good God we have!). So one day, after a lot of questioning, doubt, and fighting on my own, I asked Jesus to come and help me. And just like that He was there. He said “Parker, you’ve had a rough go of it, how about you hop on my back and I’ll carry you for a while.” And that is exactly what He did. Everything was not perfect in that moment, but everything was different.

Unknown to me, God was beginning to weave a Holy passion in my heart, through my time of darkness. I began to ask bigger questions like “why is there injustice in the world?”, “what does God think about injustice?”, “do I have a responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters who are being oppressed?” And, as many of us know God answered those questions, without any concern that it was going to turn my life upside down. God was doing all of this at a very interesting time, at an interesting time in our country. I don’t need to tell you that a lot has gone on in our country in the past year, you already know that, and if you don’t, just check Facebook. I began to feel uncomfortable about the way that my brothers and sisters were being treated. I began to acknowledge my privilege, and it did not sit well with me.

The biggest question I began to ask myself was- Why is The Church not doing anything about this injustice? I had read The Bible, I had obviously seen the way Jesus felt about injustice, I was confused why so many people were ignoring it. I was confused and kind of frightened.

This big question lead to a great deal of hopelessness. And think if we are honest a lot of us find ourselves there, concerning injustice in the world. We become immune to it, not because we think it’s okay, but because we think there is nothing we can do about it. The biggest thing that RYM, and the Raleigh community has taught me in general is that there is always something we can do about it.

My first devotion assignment of the summer was Genesis 2:4-9. In this passage the creation story is told in beautiful parable. It goes like this:

“this is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground- trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

I found myself looking at injustice like there were no shrubs, no plants, no rain and no work being done. I felt hopeless, this is how I felt before I began my own personal mission immersion at RYM.

But then I began my time at RYM and God allowed me to see how God had strategically placed streams along this dead land, to water the whole surface of the ground. God showed me that, in all his mercy, God purposely made Shepherd’s Table soup kitchen so God’s people would not go hungry. God purposely made Ruth Sheets Adult Day Care Ceter, so God’s children would never feel forgotten. God purposely made North Raleigh Ministries, so people would not go naked. God purposely made Healing Transitions so God’s sick children would know that they are never alone. God purposely made Church in the Woods so people could encounter to love of Jesus Christ. God purposely made Oak City Outreach Center so there would be no days where a child of God would not see smiling face. God purposely used and uses all of the agencies to give life to a land that can seem so dry.

And while I began to see God nourish God’s land, even though He had been doing it long before I knew of it. It began to give me new life. God used these strategically placed streams to pick me up out of the dust of hopelessness and breath a life of hope into me.

And even in all of that goodness God was not done. God continues to create, grow and plant new trees that are pleasing to eye and good for food. God continues to plant trees like The Raleigh Center and A Place at The Table. God continues to use the people who have been breathed on to water and grow new and beautiful things.

And what continues to amaze me about God is somehow God is able to hold the tension between the hopelessness and the hope. God still allows us, and validates us when we look at the world and say “this is all dead, I can do nothing good here.” God hears that prayers, and validates that sometimes we feel that way. Yet, at the same time, God rejoices with us when we say “oh the stream are beautiful, and I am so thankful for this breath of life in my nostrils.” God acknowledges that in the middle of the garden, at the core of humanity, there is a tree of life, there is a tree of knowledge of good and there is a tree of knowledge of evil. God doesn’t ask us to blindly hope. Instead God invites us to look at the world and see the good and the evil and to decide that we will not be okay with a barren world, but we want a world full of streams and trees.

I will forever be amazed at a God who trusts flawed people with not only God’s creation, but also God’s children. I am not going to lie to you and say that every day I end the day with shouts of celebration for the beauty of the world. There are days where I come to Katherine’s office and have a million question, most that can’t be answered on this side of heaven. There are days where the only thing that gets me through is throwing a football with my kiddos while listening to my lovely fellow intern, Ben’s, dad jokes. There are days where the only sense of hope I can hold onto is listening to “Quiet” by MILCK. Yet even in these days I remain in awe of the streams and trees that have been planted, and I remember that, as someone who has been breathed into, I cannot waste my breath.

Parker is a student at Campbell University.  She was a summer intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  

Just Do It

Last week I had the opportunity to take a group of young people to Church of the Advocate, a regular mission site for AYM throughout the summer. Church of the Advocate is an open-arms congregation, welcoming any and all to come worship, have a meal, and create community with one another. My group and I joined the congregation for worship, and, although most of the service is traditional, part of the sermon includes allowing people in the crowd to share their thoughts on scripture.

Before I go further with the story, I’d like for you to take a moment to visualize what this crowd looked like…physically, emotionally, mentally. The service took place outside in a courtyard. It was completely open, an inviting space for anyone who may be walking down the street. There were people from every walk of life…some live inside, some live outside. Some are healthy, some are sick with mental or physical illness. Some face daily prejudice because of who they are, and some do not. Many of these people are commonly ignored by the everyday tourist-crowd of Asheville because they are, according to most of society, “different” from the rest of us. That being said, for many people in the crowd, this service was the only day this week they had the opportunity to share their opinion with people who care. This led to some interesting and uneasy topics during that day’s worship service, throwing my group off-guard. After everyone had shared, the service soon came to a close, and my group and I had a chance to reflect on what we had experienced.  

Overall, the young people and their adult leaders were particularly moved by the fact that people had a place to come be at peace when the rest of their life is often unsteady. However, they all agreed that they didn’t think they would be able to handle all of the different opinions and stories shared from everyone each week; it was overwhelming and hard to relate and connect with people in the short time we were there. Then, someone asked Pastor Vic and I, “How do you keep doing this?”

I was immediately struck by the boldness of this young man’s question. I had never thought about how I do my job in this context, but Pastor Vic had the perfect response, “You show up every week, and you just do it.” As he kept speaking with the group, I hung on to this response, thinking about my experience with relational ministry throughout the summer. I thought back to the first time I had visited Haywood Street Congregation or 12 Baskets or Church of the Advocate, or even when I just stopped to say hello to someone I had met on the street. I remembered how nervous and uncomfortable I was the first time…and the second, and even the third, but Pastor Vic was right- I just kept showing up and doing it, and soon, these folk were becoming my friends.

This experience with my group hit home for me because it was the first time I realized that my experience as an AYM intern is changing me into who I have always wanted to be- I am beginning to become a friend to people who I typically wouldn’t be friends with. I look forward to seeing them throughout my week, and I wonder about them if I don’t run into them. I am working with people, and I am building relationships with them, which is exactly what Youth Mission Co is all about: making the uncomfortable, comfortable.

When we accomplish this goal as an organization, we are able to show young people that they can do this anywhere. They can take the experiences they have meeting people, connecting with people, and relating with people throughout their week with us and leave knowing that when they go back home, they can begin to build relationships with people in their own communities as long as they continue to show up, and just do it!

Sara is a senior at Georgia College and State University.  She has been a summer intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  

Jesus Loves Me. This I know. Now it’s our turn.

It’s the last week of this summer of Mission Immersion, and on this Tuesday night after program, this group was heading to the Marble Slab to grab some ice cream, and invited my fellow Intern Will, and myself to join. When we walked into the ice cream shop, our adult leader decided to cover the entire group and then the other four people in front of us in line. The first of these was a young man, whom appeared to be in his late teens, early twenties. He had just purchased a cone, and then once he found out it was covered, asked if he could get some ice cream to accompany it, as he only had enough money to get the cone. After receiving his cup of butter pecan, he took a seat at a table under a window, and a few of our youth and an adult sat down and started chatting with him.

As I started to lick the last drops off of my ice cream cone, the adult who had  been sitting with the young man came over to Will and I asking if we had pen or paper, and things we could write down where Harry* could find resources. He had just arrived to Asheville about 2 weeks prior, was 21 years old, and living with Bipolar disorder, and had been kicked out by his family. Fortunately, I had just put a notebook and pen in my backpack that morning, and Will sat down and I stood as we talked through where Harry could go. As we listed off places such as Haywood Street Congregation, 12 Baskets Cafe, A Hope Day Shelter, along with street names, services, times, and people for Harry, he continuously pointed up and said “You did this” to God, and consistently thanked us and God for putting us all in the same place at the same time.  But there was one thing he said that stuck out for me.

“You know, I haven’t been very good at praying or reading the Bible, but God is still here.”

I’m not going to lie, in that very moment I started sobbing. God loved Harry so much, that he put all of us in each others lives, so we could learn and grow from each other. If there is anything I have learned this summer, it is that there is NOTHING someone can do that can make them undeserving of love, from God or the community.

On Wednesday Night in program, we talk about Psalm 139, in which David talks about how well God knows him. We prompt the kids with a question about how it feels that God knows you so well. A slew of answers comes back with everything from scary to comforting, and I personally identify with the comforting side. The fact that God knows everything about us, yet he still loves us, makes it comforting to know that no matter what you do, God understands and forgives. Harry said it best, that even though he hasn’t always practiced his faith, he still knows and feels that God is with him and loves him. From the time we could talk, we are taught the classic song, “Jesus Loves Me” but it wasn’t until recently that I fully understand the extent to which that love reaches, or the fact that its a two way. God’s love has been visible in so many ways for me this summer. I feel God sitting in song at the bible study with youth after we finish the Free Food Market at the senior opportunity center, in the joy of the children from Children First as they run through a game of sharks and minnows, and in the face of community members as they slurp down a popsicle. But now its our turn to share this love.

I had a conversation with a community member recently, in which she told me how much it means to have some immediately greet her by name when she walks in a room. Something that small could make her feel loved. Its our duty, as God’s children, to make sure everyone feeling his love, and I think that the work that YMCo does is doing just that.

Kate Beeken is a student at the University of Tampa.  She is a summer intern at Asheville Youth Mission