Month: July 2019

Bringing Worlds Together

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.

Miracles within Mustard Seeds

On my first night of training for this job, the other interns and I sat awkwardly around a table eating spaghetti as our Executive Director, Bill Buchanan, said something that would stay imprinted  in my brain for the rest of the summer. “This is kingdom of God stuff, y’all” he said with sincerity, while the other interns and I pondered what that really meant. Fast forward to my second summer as an AYM intern, I can say with absolute certainty that the people I’ve met and the agencies I’ve worked with are truly part of that “kingdom of God stuff”.

At the beginning of the summer if you had asked me what I imagined God’s kingdom looked like, I would have told you something that was truly perfect and profound, something that was flawless and impeccable. Surprisingly, I still agree with that statement, but now an explanation is required along with it. 

Haywood Street Congregation is a church in Asheville that was specifically created for people living on the margins. One of their taglines is “Holy Chaos” and that couldn’t be more accurate when describing the experience you’ll have there. On a typical Wednesday afternoon up to five hundred people step foot on Haywood’s campus, possibly to grab a meal at their welcome table, receive a free haircut in their hospitality room, pick up some clothes from their clothing closet they call “God’s Outfitters”, or worship with all different types of people from the Asheville community. The first Wednesday I was there with AYM, the scripture reading was from Matthew 13:31-32:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in the branches.”

Following the reading, the founder of Haywood Street and lead Pastor, Brian Combs, rises to the front and asks the congregation “Alright church, what do we think?” Almost immediately several hands went up, and the discussion commenced. Folks began exploring concepts of what they believed the kingdom of heaven was like, eventually Pastor Brian commenting “Mustard seeds at this time in history were seen as weeds”. He went on to explain that not only were mustard seeds tiny as a seed and tiny as a plant when they grew, but they were also something insignificant and unwanted in the gardening world most of the time. But using the metaphor of a weed for God’s kingdom is on purpose, he reassured. I was puzzled by this notion, but Brian continued, saying that God’s kingdom is and was created by what we would consider the insignificant moments; the imperfect and the underestimated are always the folks that can teach us the most about God’s kingdom. 

My experience this summer with AYM can certainly attest to this concept. I always saw my glimpses into God’s kingdom within the smallest moments; a kid beaming as they gave a popsicle to one of our neighbors experiencing homelessness, or receiving a hug from a gentle stranger after experiencing Bible study with them. This compilation of seemingly insignificant moments with society’s most underestimated people have become some of the most profound and significant moments along my faith journey. I’ve realized this summer that God’s kingdom is built with moments of imperfect perfection— the miracles of life are found within the unsuspecting mustard seeds we encounter everyday. 


Katie Flanagan is a summer intern at Asheville Youth Mission She attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.