Shining Through The Cracks

This summer I have been able to work at many agencies across Memphis.  One of my favorites is The Manna House. People in the community can go in the morning to the Manna house and drink coffee, play board games, and maybe take showers or get a new pair of socks. The youth get to connect with people who have lived lives very different than us. Two people I had the pleasure of meeting were Paul and Otis*.

 Paul has always lived in Memphis. After completing his associate’s, he had plans of returning to school for his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Unfortunately, before this was ever able to happen, Paul lost his job and has been homeless ever since. He keeps journals and books with him, including a bible in which he said he read in its entirety over the course of nine months. 

Otis was very open telling me about how he has struggled with crack addiction for many years now. He clearly recognizes the damage it causes his life. He shared with me that after a drug deal went wrong in his hometown of Little Rock, a church bought him a bus ticket to Memphis so he could escape those who wanted to kill him. He first was incarcerated at the age of 15 and started using hard drugs soon thereafter. 

Memphis has a rich history in the civil rights movement. Naturally, this history seeps into our program. We talk about the roles religious leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference played in desegregation. Many churches at the time supported segregation as they believed in separating “us” from “them.” Although segregation might be a thing of the past, it’s not difficult to see how we might still have an “us” and “them” mindset.

For example, it can be easy to tell stories and advocate for people like Paul while ignoring the “Otises” of society. Someone’s struggles become something we think we can judge as “more” or “less” Christian.  We tend to believe that God exists only in perfection, not the cracks in life. This mindset is easy to fall into, but is the opposite of what we as christians are called to do by many biblical passages such as Proverbs 31:8-9. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Of course Otis is able to speak, but he doesn’t have the same opportunity to speak to our friends and congregations as we do. While there are struggles the majority of us do not face, we as christians are called to address them in our world.

This is the final week of MYM this summer and I spoke to Otis and Peter at the manna house for the last time. Since I last saw Peter, he picked up a job teaching Sunday school at a church. He prayed with some people at the Manna House and said Otis was one of his good friends. He even gave him some money to go get lunch.

(*Names have been changed for privacy.)

 

Edward Blount is a summer intern at Memphis Youth Mission.  He attends Radford University.

Love and Grace

My favorite passage to use during Bible study with my students is Matthew 20: 1-16, The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. To put it simply, this passage compares the Kingdom (or as I like to think of it, Ecosystem) of Heaven to a landowner and his workers. Early in the morning, the landowner hires several daily workers who agree to the usual daily pay. Then the landowner hires more workers at mid-day, and even more towards the end of the day. When it is time to be paid, the full-day workers are disappointed upon realizing that all workers were paid the same amount. The landowner’s response to their distress at the unfair nature of his payment scale is that he did not short the full day workers of the money they were promised and that he is allowed to do what he wishes with his money.

 

One of my favorite memories happened as I was conducting the Bible study and I felt that, though they were trying, my students were exhausted and completely disengaged from the entire program. After only a couple, painful minutes of slow discussion, I defeatedly asked “Alright.  Does anyone have any questions or comments before we wrap up?” Fully prepared to end the Bible study there, I was pleasantly surprised when one of my students raised her hand and rather timidly stated “I have something to say but it might sound controversial.” She then spoke about Christians’ views of the LGBTQ+ community and said “I don’t understand how you can be a Christian and hate people.” Though her words were simple, her sentiment got me teary as I saw the effects of this student’s faith on her world outlook taking shape.

 

Throughout my life I have been taught to be the type of Christian who loves, and shows love to all of God’s children. Before interning with AYM, that meant donating to coat drives at school, spending afternoons at food banks, and leading groups to plant trees with Trees Atlanta, which are all awesome things, but this passage is about more than just love. It’s about grace. Grace that isn’t deserved.

 

This summer I have seen snippets of some harsh realities of life that often shake both my students and myself up. After each of the occurrences, I muster up whatever strength I have to lead my students in what we at YMCo call a “debrief” to help them understand and interpret what they just saw. For example, if we see someone yelling we discuss how, though their behavior is not okay, all of us have felt that way inside at some point or another, but we have the privilege to go to our homes and be upset in private.

 

The hardest debrief I have led was with a group of students who thought they saw a man using marijuana in one of our agencies, 12 Baskets Café, and could not understand why the agency staff would not kick him out of the restaurant as he no longer “deserved” to be there. I spoke with my students about how, while 12 Baskets does not endorse drug usage, they believe in extending God’s grace to all of our neighbors, especially those who are marginalized and in our eyes don’t “deserve” it. We thought about how giving imperfect people grace is what the Bible all about, which is exactly what 12 Baskets was doing. This discussion took a lot out of me as I felt that my students were attacking this man who I personally felt had done little-to-no wrong, however, as I listened to myself speak about grace, I realized grace was what my students needed from me. I can’t expect them to be perfect any more than I can expect neighbors at our agencies to be perfect, but I must still strive to show them grace

 

The idea that the world should be “fair” is so deeply ingrained in my outlook that it is often difficult for me to practice what I preach and find love in my heart for those who don’t “deserve” it. But the fact is, people are lame. All of us. We all make mistakes and none of us can ever live up to the God who created us with their own breath. However, as The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard tells us, God really doesn’t care if we “deserve” love. Though our individualistic world often pushes the message that if someone is not directly improving your life right now they are not worth loving, God pushes back by demonstrating radical, underserved, and truly amazing grace.

 

In following the essential Christian call to be more like God and make the earth more like Heaven, we must all strive to push past the idea of “deserving” to get to the idea of “loving all” by showing grace to ourselves and all other wretches, no questions asked.

 

Laura Cain is a Summer Intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  She attends Agnes Scott College.

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.

Finding Your Voice

“10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’

-Exodus 4:10-12

If you’ve ever hung around me or my family, you would realize we have no problem talking. The conversation at our dinner table runs at a pace fast enough to scare a stenographer away and my friends often ask me to “repeat that” or “sloooow down”. For me, it’s not the act of speaking that is hard, but the work of using just the right words so that my message isn’t hidden in a pile of useless fluff.

In the verse above you see Moses questioning his own ability to speak, afraid of saying the wrong thing, and in other verses around this he asks for his brother Aaron to speak. Aaron was a great speaker, a strong leader, but not the one that was needed at the time. Many times, we find ourselves in the place of Moses, with a nagging sense of unpreparedness (no matter how much is planned out) or a sense of “not being the right fit”. Sometimes it’s just doing something for the first time, without any form of training wheels to lean on. We feel the need to lean on our own Aaron, those who we see as more skilled and readier than us. But the Lord, who assures Moses here, also assures us. For in each person lies the spark of connection, the ability to have the Lord speak through us.

This advice has spoken strongly to me at one of our partner agencies, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. Every Wednesday morning, we take a group there, first to worship with the whole community of the area, with bankers and those experiencing homelessness, all together in one row. After worship we assist in serving a breakfast for all, and then proceed to eat alongside all of our neighbors there. For many youth, I’ve noticed the most transformative and challenging part of working at St. Marys isn’t the serving or the worship. It’s when the service turns from labor-based service (serving food) to connectional and relational service that many youth start to feel a sense of struggle and growth. As soon as they finish serving many come up to me asking for the next task. With most of the serving done at that point I tell them to “make a new friend” or “talk to someone and learn their story”. There is an instant “deer in the headlights” expression on their faces and questions like, “well how do I just go and talk to someone” and “what do you mean ‘learn their story’” pop up. But I remind them of the passage above, as we normally use it as a devotional earlier in the week. They are reminded that simple questions can lead to complex answers, that their voice can be strong, that a smile and conversation can mean just as much as a plate of food.

Many youth “strike out” on their first attempt in talking to someone, sometimes due to nerves, others to the fact that they picked to talk to someone who was still eating. But by the second or third person they talk to you can see the power of relational ministry occurring. You can see stories being told, of future dreams, of children now grown up, of spouses moved on, of both great beauty and great loss. The youth always come back to me, full of information about their new friend they have made and with a newfound confidence carrying them. They have leaned into what Moses was told to do and require no more help from their own Aaron. They are no longer the timid Moses who was startled by a burning bush, but now the Moses who demanded the release of captive Israel, being an advocate.

We end the week with each participant writing down one person or issue they will carry home with them on a shared piece of art. This does two things. First, it lets the participants begin to process what they have experienced. Second, it gives them something to advocate for when they return home, now emboldened to speak out about who they met and establish even better connections to those around them, becoming that advocate.

No one goes into a time of service feeling fully prepared, ready to do everything. But I think we can all be Moses in those situations, ready to speak to what the Lord needs us to do. And if all else fails, a quote from FDR can easily guide, “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.”

 

Vance Stiles is a summer intern with Memphis Youth Mission.  He attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Welcoming The Stranger

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” -Deuteronomy 10:18-19

 

For my first week at RYM, I was very nervous. I was in a completely new state, with completely new people. I did not know anyone and was anxious about the group I would soon be meeting. The first mission immersion site that I went to, with my group, was the Welcome House. This is a Christian led organization that provides home for refugees and supports them throughout their transition of moving from the country they were born in and lived their whole life, to a place where they knew no one and are alone. They feed and care for the refugees until they are able to get on their feet and support themselves. What surprised me about this place was that, although run by Christians, the refugees do not have to be Christian to reside there. They do not try to push Christianity on them but, instead just showed them love and acceptance.

 

While we were there, we did yard work, weeding and laying pine needles on top of the gardens, and cleaned the inside of the house, mopping and sweeping throughout. We could see the gratitude on the residents’ faces for our help which was heartwarming for the entire youth group and myself. We were able to interact and show our faith through our actions. We were able to interact with some of the residents there and found that one of them converted to Christianity during his time there. He said that he wanted to understand why strangers would be so inviting and caring to him without any payment back and so he explored their faith. I thought that this was such an amazing thing that the people at Welcome House were able to express, through their actions, the church’s beliefs in such a way that someone born into another religion would convert into ours.

 

I could not help but compare my situation to the refugees. I left my own home in Florida to move to a new place without knowing anyone and I was scared. I just kept thinking about how open my host family was when I first got here and how I felt at home and more at peace because of it. These refugees left their entire life behind in order to seek safety and moved to a new country, leaving everything that was familiar to them. They were welcomed with open arms by this organization which they said is helping them feel more accepted into our country and into a new life for them. We were able to chat with each other for a while and even got a picture together in the end in order to help us remember this encounter forever.

 

The Welcome House had me thinking about all of the misconceptions that are currently being discussed about refugees. These people are here legally in order to seek a safe place to continue living out their lives in the best way they can. They are working for a better life than what they were able to receive in their original country which I think is inspiring. As Christians, we should be inviting to those who are seeking safety and should defend those who are defenseless. This is a lesson that I, and the youth group, have discussed and will remember for the rest of our lives.

Chloe Neusaenger is an intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  She attends Florida State University

Lessons From The Garden

“Everyone is hungry for something, and everyone has something to give.”

This is one of the core values of one of our worksites called The Lord’s Acre*. At Asheville Youth Mission, we have the pleasure of visiting their extensive and productive garden almost every week. In their mission to fight hunger in western North Carolina, they grow fresh, organic, healthy food that they then distribute to a handful of local agencies in Fairview, Black Mountain, and Asheville, completely free of charge. Our students get to spend the time we have there helping with weeding, harvesting, washing vegetables, and other garden upkeep tasks, in addition to participating in activities and discussion to learn more about hunger.

At the Lord’s Acre, they have a very postcolonial take on the charity part of their mission. Many agencies, even with the best intentions, are set up for people to either be a “giver” or a “receiver” of benefits. For example, either you’re the one serving or being served in a soup kitchen. Either you’re the one with the privilege to volunteer your time or you’re the one those volunteers are there to help. It creates an unnecessary, unspoken divide between people. This system maintains that either you’re a “have,” or a “have not.”

The reality is that it’s not that simple. There isn’t a line you can draw between people separating those with needs and those without, because no one fits neatly into either of those boxes. We’ve been taught that we should administer our good works if we’re able, feel good about it, and go home without receiving anything, because we’re not the “needy” ones.  At the Lord’s Acre, the first half of their mantra is that “everyone is hungry for something.” That may manifest itself in a physical sense for a person who needs a meal, or it might manifest itself in an emotional sense for a person who needs a community. Some are hungry for beauty, and can be satisfied by the diversity of flowers amongst the garden beds. Some are hungry for education, and will find joy in learning about new growing techniques. For some, the biggest blessing is that the garden is growing food that can feed families. For others, the biggest blessing is that the garden is a place of stillness and peace in a world where those are becoming harder to find.

“Everyone has something to give” is the simple yet radical second half of their slogan. It’s saying that no matter who you are, you have talents and qualities that are worthy of sharing. If you are on the receiving end of the food they grow, that doesn’t mean that should be your only role in the exchange. Maybe you have gardening experience and can come teach the staff something new. Maybe you have a strong body and can give your talent of strength to lift or move heavy equipment around the garden. Maybe you bring the gift of friendship and conversation to the garden, which adds to the community.

It’s easy to appreciate the gifts and talents of our friends, family, and people close to our hearts. What’s harder for many people is to look at someone who is less resourced than they are and see a person of worth, who brings gifts and talents of their own to the table. Based on the “have/have not” model, we’ve been taught that people with the ability to be charitable should do so, and that the beneficiaries of that charity should be grateful, and everyone goes home unchanged. Instead, we should meet people where they are (housed/unhoused, educated/vocational worker/unemployed, master gardener/beginner) value whatever it is that they bring to the community (wisdom, humor, financial support, diversity, storytelling, love of the outdoors) and partake in learning from and working alongside each other.

For too long I thought I wasn’t hungry because I never went to bed on an empty stomach. Turns out, as I make my way around Asheville this summer, I am starving, and I meet people every day in the community who share their gifts and stories with me, and allow me to share mine with them. This is give and take. This is community.

 

*The Lord’s Acre is undergoing a renaming this summer, so depending on when this article is being accessed, they might be under their new name, Root Cause Farm.

Naomi Rabago is an intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  She attends James Madison University.

Kairos and Chronos

Upon the completion of my last worksite with Asheville Youth Mission, I was left with a curious thought: how should I measure my time spent this summer? In other words, what will I tell my friends and family about my internship at AYM when I return to college? Of course, being the science kid I am, I looked first to trying to understand what time really means.

How do we measure time? Well, historically, we measured time by dividing one orbit of the earth around the sun into little chunks. Namely, the second. First defined as 1/86,400 part of a mean solar day, the second now caries an even more curiously-arbitrary definition. Currently, the second is defined as “9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom.” That’s ridiculous right?!

I have come to the conclusion that time with people and our silly definition of time are profoundly different. This difference can be best explained by exploring a little Greek linguistics. In ancient Greece, there were two words for time: Kairos and Chronos. Chronos, meaning a sort of sequential view of time and Kairos meaning God’s time.

Chronos, in our world, is pretty easy to get used to. For instance, that clock you have on the wall ticks every second. In previous jobs I traded this type of time for money. Kairos, however, is a little trickier to grasp. Have you ever spent time with friends or family and notice that time can move extremely fast or slow in different moments? I most certainly have this summer. It is these moments (the moments in which I forget about Chronos) in which the most fruitful growth occurs. A balance between give and take emerges in which one learns as much as one teaches. A few of those moments this summer include: a discussion with Rev. Milly Morrow and youth about gentrification in West Asheville, participating in Lectio Divina at Church of the Advocate, building shelves at the Homeward Bound Donation Center, playing cornhole at Haywood Street Congregation, being silly at the Irene Wortham Center, teaching some wonderful youth about what it means to live an abundant life, and learning from some wonderful youth about what it means to live an abundant life. It is these moments, that I will tell my friends and family about my internship at AYM.

So, I leave you with this: we are all hungry for something and we all have something to offer. I strongly believe that we become something greater than the sum of our parts when we live in this Kairos and briefly forget about the Chronos.

Riley Stephenson is a summer intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  He attends North Carolina State University.

Gratitude

At Memphis Youth Mission, one of the community partners that we go to every week is St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral on Wednesday mornings for a worship service that is open to everyone, and they mean everyone. After the worship service, the group will help serve breakfast to those who attended the worship service and others from the community.

For me, this service site has been particularly meaningful. MYM had an Episcopalian group come earlier in the summer and I had the privilege of sitting next to one of the group leaders during the service. She was overwhelmed by the joy, love, and compassion shown to those who normally would not be so welcomed in a traditional church setting; she wept at the idea that this church was opening its doors to anyone and everyone that wanted to come in. It was a powerful experience for me to watch her during the service and afterwards during the breakfast, talking to people and helping welcome those on the margins.

Every week that MYM has gone to St. Mary’s and helped serve breakfast, I have done the job of helping clear the trays after people have finished eating breakfast. I met Jerry, who wipes the plates clean and stacks them, the first week of the summer. Jerry is a retired Episcopalian minister who has “nothing more meaningful to do” on Wednesday mornings than help clear and clean trays. Over the summer, Jerry and I have been able to talk and get to know each other over dirty plates and cups. I told him that after this summer, I would be a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington D.C. and he told me about his 5-year-old twin grandchildren. Today was my last day helping Jerry clear trays at St. Mary’s. I came up to the cleaning station and awaiting me was a present that Jerry had handmade for me as thank you gift for a wonderful summer of service together. Jerry made me a wooden block with a butterfly on it and the word gratitude painted on to it. He told me that he was grateful for the time that we had shared together and for the work that I had put into the summer. I told Jerry that I in turn was grateful to have shared such a wonderful time of service with him and for everything that he had shared with me.

At the end of this summer, Jerry’s gift to me shows me the ways in which service impacts people at every level. Yes, we are there to serve those who are normally not served with the dignity and respect they deserve. But, it showed me that there are different levels of service, that I was in service to Jerry just as much as I was in service to those eating breakfast at St. Mary’s. Overall, I think that is one of my biggest lessons from this summer—that we are in service to one another and not just those that we think need our help. I am forever thankful for the chance to have gotten to know and serve with Jerry and for every experience I have had working at MYM this summer!

 

Sarah Hall is a summer intern for Memphis Youth Mission.  She is a graduate of the University of the Ozarks.

Finding Community with the Alien Residing In Your Midst

Community:

1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. 

2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

We all belong to communities. We are on different teams and parts of different clubs. We attend different schools and different churches. However, the one community without any divide is the body of Christ. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our people!!! Throughout the summer, I have had the opportunity to engage in many different communities that have taught me so much about who makes up the body of Christ. Although getting up and to work by 7:30 seems to be getting harder and harder, the communities being built seems to make it more and more worth it.

We started Tuesday, July 17th off with our morning devotion, focusing on defining community. Although we have a devotion on this topic weekly, I really tried to focus on its’ message throughout that day. That afternoon, we traveled to a housing development that houses refugees in the Raleigh area. Workers from another nonprofit in Raleigh teaches the adults in the neighborhood English, so the team from RYM watches the kids while the parents can better their education. I have been to this place several times, but something about the work we did that day sparked new thoughts in my head. I loved watching the way our team from RYM took on the challenge of handling tons of kids they had never met, and how they showed God’s love through the way they played with the kids and had conversations with them. Our team took in every moment and worked hard in the July sun to ensure the refugee children were having a fun time. These relationships were developed within a couple hours, but unfortunately the likelihood that our group from RYM will see the kids they worked with again is close to none. However, for that short amount of time, there was a community of people not separated by race, class, gender, or social status. For that brief amount of time, we drew with chalk, we made bracelets, and we played lots of soccer without thinking of the labels that society might place on these people.

This truly had me thinking: what would the world look like if we took time to make communities and develop relationships with those who are different from us? What could we accomplish if we took time to get to know someone else’s story and tell them our own? I have a good feeling the world would be a much more harmonious place. That’s why I am so thankful I have had the opportunity to work with these children. Creating community with them is truly humbling and puts so much into perspective about opportunity and the United States. Before coming to work at RYM, I was not familiar with how the United States handles refugees, but more so I had no idea how the Bible tells us as Christians to face such political issues. Leviticus 19:33-34 states,When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” How incredible is it that the Bible tells us exactly what we need to do-welcome in the stranger and create community with them! By intentionally developing relationships, we are learning, we are growing, and we are viewing life through a different lens. All of these are essential for developing a new sense of community here in the United States with all of our neighbors. Community might be the person we thought we had nothing in common with, or it might be someone we share everything with. But in all, I think it is amazing that Raleigh Youth Mission is finding communities wherever they go and sharing the love of God through these places and through their faces.

 

Leah Brooks is a summer intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  She attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.