I felt like one of those men in ET cleaning out Elliot’s house as I peeled away the plastic body suit to reveal a sticky-with-sweat shirt and stench steaming out of my armpits. I slapped hands with a middle-aged Hawaiian on one side of me and then with the native Korean youth on the other. The three of us couldn’t do anything but laugh at how disgusting we all were!
Along with the other interns, I have spent the last 3 days participating in the Miracle on 43rd Street youth event in sunny Los Angeles, California, working to improve the United Christian Church building. In total, Miracle involved about 70 youth—not bad for an event that just got a firm footing at the beginning of this year!— from around the country and world, all of whom are working diligently to improve LA at various worksites around the city. However, this week is about so much more than mission work: This week was about laying stones. Oh, so many stones!
Half of the directing team, Lee Yates, offered a devotion two nights ago based around a scripture in Nehemiah in which the minor prophet calls for a fortifying wall around Judah to be rebuilt. “But how?” people asked. “Everyone just make an individual pile of rocks, and we’ll see what happens.” Nehemiah told them. Before one could say “Babylon,” a brand new wall was built! Of course, this wall wasn’t quite as strong or tall as the original, but enough people laid enough individual stones to move towards accomplishing something great.
This week, youth, volunteers, sponsors, and interns alike laid stones to help make us stronger individuals, make nearer the Kingdom of God, make a great city even better,
and expand perspective, all while having a lot of fun! The intern team’s resident anthropologist Amy Austin describes in her last post the profundity of structural racism as an eye-opener, and she did so better than I could hope to, so I encourage every reader to give her post a read about that paradigm-shifter. On Wednesday the group also visited the Museum of Tolerance here in LA to learn about tolerance versus intolerance in the world, and the museum also shed new light on the atrocity of the Holocaust. An interactive simulation-seminar on words and bullying sticks out particularly in my mind. Discussing the museum later with Team ABC—again, see Amy’s post—, tolerance and acceptance are two completely different concepts. As Christians we are called to accept as Jesus accepts and not merely “tolerate” the existence of difference in the world. At the same time, tolerance is a necessary first step—first stone, if you will—in full acceptance of others.
While the museum was awesome, the focus of Miracle is on mission work. United, where Team ABC worked, was and is a building in need of a breath of fresh air. In the run-down walls, graffiti-painted fences, stained pews, mold-filled spaces, and empty rooms, one is compelled to think of the crumbled wall of Judah. This faith community, like Judah’s wall, must be re-built one stone at a time. A group of us wore suffocating full-body suits to rid a room infested with poisonous mold of furniture and carpet so that it cam be cleaned. Meanwhile, a group prepped and then painted walls, and still another group worked re-vamping the sanctuary. What a huge job! However, when each group worked solely on their smaller job, we all moved closer to the restoration of a beautiful neo-Gothic building and one step closer to restoring a once vibrant faith community.
“Hey, isn’t Randy your dad?” I cannot count the number of times people here in California asked me that question. The answer, of course, is yes. One gentleman from Kansas even asked me if I get annoyed being part of a denomination “where everyone knows my dad.” I immediately answered yes, because on the surface, being constantly asked about your family gets annoying. However, after reflecting on being my father’s son, my mother’s baby, and my sister’s brother, I tracked down this Kansan once again to abridge my answer. Am I annoyed or embarrassed at my family? Upon reflection, I am HUMBLED by how many people know of and respect my immediate relatives. When I asked how people know Dad, I got every response from “I was on GYC.” To “Oh yeah, didn’t you come with him to ICYF?” to “I have known him forever!” Randy Kuss is a spiritual stone mason. He lays foundations on top of which strong friendships and communities of faith are built. My family knows about the importance of making a pile of rocks, and I am learning about that importance this summer.
The exposure to culture and work accomplished this week made a mountain or stones.
While I can only speak to the stones I laid at United, work groups were laying stones at other churches, community centers, and YMCAs. What a plethora of stones the next generation of youth has to offer! That’s exactly why continuing events just like Miracle is so important. Youth have so many stones to lay and are happy laying them when given the opportunity. As we as young people figure out our place in our ever-more-diverse diverse world, placing stones of tolerance and acceptance is more important and essential than ever. Miracle on 43rd Street is a resounding success! Of course there is still an overwhelming amount of work to be done—both here in LA and in each of us—, but through events like Miracle on 43rd, the work is being done one stone at a time.
Peace for the journey,