What an incredible week! I feel like that’s how I start every blog post but it is so genuinely true.
I am so grateful to have been a part of an experience that brought together youth from around the nation as well as from South Korea! Miracle on 43rd Street took place in the heart of Los Angeles as youth and adults gathered to be a witness to God’s spirit at work in these spaces that seem overwhelmed by brokenness and to bring a labor of love to cluttered kitchens, old walls and dirty windows. In a very short amount of time with an incredible amount of effort, youth and adults have transformed the physical structure of the United Christian Church in inner-city Los Angeles, as well as have impacted a variety of other congregations in the area.
Here are a few stories through pictures of this experience:
McCarty Christian Church was our homebase for the week. It was where the youth gathered in the evenings for dinner, playtime, reflection, and worship and where we all slept on rows of donated air mattresses. Upon arrival our team was in awe of the size and beauty of the building. However, we quickly learned that what used to be a vibrant congregation is now a dying church. I really felt a tug on my heartstrings as I reflected on the need for church revival. What inspired me was to see the building filled with life as kids ran around, played games, made new friends and worshiped together in the beautiful sanctuary. There is a really cool thing that happens when you mix together old and young. There is something powerful about the voices of youth in a dramatic old sanctuary. It’s something that stirs me to my core. Seeing so many youth fill this space, and hearing their reflections on God’s spirit at work within these communities, gave me hope for the future of our Church. Lee Yates did an incredible job coordinating and supervising the event and shared a powerful message last night about “placing stones” to name God’s presence amongst us just as our forefathers have done (Nehemiah 4:1-6). It is all too easy for me, especially as a student of Anthropology, to reflect so deeply on the structures of power at play in our society that it paralyzes me from being able to act genuinely for fear of reproducing the structures of my own privilege and limiting the agency of those I seek to serve. Lee’s message last night was a beautiful reminder to me of the power of “placing stones,” of starting somewhere to attack these vast issues that plague our society, and of being involved in the naming of who God is in our world.
We had the amazing joy of hosting a delegation of youth from South Korea who are staying in the US all summer to learn English and get to know American youth. Everyone certainly got a little messy throughout the process (some more than others!) and I think our hearts and lives began to get a little more messy as well. I feel fairly confident in assuming that every person who entered the work site this week left with at least some new observation about the world and observation about themselves. I’ve been saying for a while now that experiential education is key but this week has reaffirmed that 20 times over! No one should underestimate the power of taking youth out of their comfort zones, immersing them in another reality, and asking them to reflect deeply about what they have experienced. If that won’t change the way our society operates I don’t know what will! I consider myself as someone who has done a decent amount of traveling, but simply looking out the window as we drove through Los Angeles showed me a reality I’d never experienced before. How can we possibly say we, as a society, have dealt with racism? When in reality, what has happened, like so many other things, is that is has become structural – hidden from suburban privileged eyes, out of sight – out of mind.
I have no doubt that this week planted some seeds in the hearts of our youth. Seeds that over time will grow into strong personal accountability for addressing the injustices of society. Alphonse Bertillon once said, “One can only see what one observes, and one observes only things which are already in the mind.” This week the minds of our youth have become aware of structural racism, they have become aware of the effects of a broken economy and a broken system, they have become aware of oppression and fragmentation, and they have become aware of their own privilege. Since these concepts and new awareness have flooded their minds and hearts, they now have the capacity to see them within their communities at home. That’s where YOU come in, oh wonderful DPF supporter and every other person who has stumbled across my blog. It’s not enough to send a kid on a service trip or off to summer camp, we NEED to be investing in our youth within our own communities so that they might grow in their critical thinking and indignation that the way things are just isn’t right. The more we educate ourselves, both experientially and at a distance, the more we are able to see injustices in society that were once invisible before us and the more we can begin to wholeheartedly and justly take action.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful aspects of this week was the fact that I got to share it with my two other DPF Interns. Being Amy, Blaine and Cambria, we now call ourselves the ABC Team! I can’t begin to put into words how life-giving and formative our conversations have been throughout the week as we processed our first two weeks of camp, dove headfirst into grappling with justice issues here in LA, and honestly reflected on our journeys of faith and views and questions of God.
It’s been a really transformational week. While sharing my passion for experiential social justice education, Lee Yates told me to “get my butt to seminary!” I think I may actually listen to the call this time…
Thanks to all of you for supporting us! Not only are you helping us touch the lives of hundreds of youth around the country but you are supporting the formation of us interns as young adults in our Church.
With love, courage and hope,