The theme for YMCo this summer is “Worlds Apart”. At the beginning of the week we try to explain this theme by taking the youth on an urban walk around the city of Raleigh. We show the youth the different communities that exist right across the street from each other but are “Worlds Apart”. On one street there is a soup kitchen and on the next there are high priced restaurants. There are bus stops and parking garages. There are homes and there are park benches.
This theme was especially impactful for me, a Raleigh native. Though educational and eye opening for the youth–even more for me as I learned about agencies and communities that existed across the street or across town from me that I was now just learning about. “Worlds Apart” couldn’t be more real. I enjoyed learning more about my city, but also felt guilty that parts of the city were so foreign to me.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with the hate I’ve witnessed in our world and particularly our country. The way we treat our neighbors, our brothers and sisters is disheartening. Each week that passes as a RYM intern and the more I interact in different “worlds” the more angry I become at the injustices all around.
A quote that hangs up in our RYM office is from Lilla Watson, an indigenous Australian, academic, and activist. It reads, “if you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” It took me a while to understand what this truly meant– at least what it meant to me.
This week the RYM team read a story from an unknown author in our weekly staff devotion. It was about a farmer that grew blue ribbon corn every year. When a reporter interviewed the farmer about his corn the farmer revealed that he shared his best seed corn with his neighbors. When the reporter asked why he did this, he said, “Why sir, didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
At the end of our walk we show the youth ways that Raleigh has brought “worlds together”. We stop at “A Place at the Table” a restaurant that is a perfect example of this idea. This restaurant has a pay what you can model with a goal of restoring dignity to people. When you order, you are always asked how much you would like to pay. The beautiful part of this restaurant is that it is not a restaurant for a particular community, but rather a restaurant for both a business person and a person who sleeps on the street. This restaurant bursts the bubbles in which we too often isolate ourselves.
The story about the farmer was the missing piece to the “Worlds Apart” theme and Watson’s quote for me. This farmer shows how our well-being is directly related to the well-being and prosperity of others. Watson’s quote became clear to me. We must learn that our liberation is bound up with others solely because we are humans and because we are children of God. When your neighbors don’t have enough food, when they don’t have a place to sleep, when they can’t afford medical care, when they fear for their lives, when they are separated from their loved ones, the whole world hurts. Until we realize that when one human hurts, humanity hurts, we are not living into what the Kingdom of God should be. Instead, God calls us to love our neighbor and our enemy and in order to do this we cannot live in separate worlds.
Anna Grace Thompson is a summer intern at Raleigh Youth Mission. She attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.