Gifts of Friendship

I received a text one night, “Friend! I don’t want to call you friend anymore.” Seeing who this text was from I was a bit confused. This was someone close to me and generally a sweet and affectionate person. Before my fear arose too much all was made clear by the following text message, “I want to call you ‘my sister’!!! Love you so much.”

I smiled. The author of this text was Sarinna, my dear friend from the Village, who got married the day before this text. Back in September when I moved to the Village Sarinna was the first resident I met and she is also on the Turner Foundation staff. She eagerly welcomed me to the Village, told me stories, cooked me delicious Thai food, and shared her story with me. I joined her on Saturdays for Kid’s Cooking Class and spent many hours in the Community Center getting to know her. From her openness and trust I quickly learned about Sarinna and she became a good friend.

During a rough time Sarinna went whale watching with her two adorable kids. Unfortunately they didn’t see any whales and as she told me this sad fact I saw this as an image for her life full or heartache and disappointments. However, I confidently told her that God would soon provide whales for her, that he would bring relief from her sadness. A month or so later Sarinna met George.

At the end of June many friends gathered together to celebrate the marriage of George and Sarinna. I had the privilege of being the maid of honor so we spent hours together planning the wedding and running errands to make the day beautiful. I loved going with her to pick out a dress and we had so much fun hosting her bridal shower with friends from Westmont and the Village. As we prepared for the wedding I learned a lot about Sarinna and George. They are both generous, hard working, and lots of fun. After many hardships it is great to see Sarinna happy and know that she has a loving husband and father to her kids. The wedding turned out beautifully. Being her maid of honor was humbling as I realized how close we had become in just the year I have been at the Village. I felt unworthy of the title because I have known her less than one year yet I was assured by mutual friends that I have had an impact on Sarinna and her family. I believe it is a testimony of the power of love and friendship. Here is a snap from the wedding for you to enjoy:

 

 

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Summer Fruit

One of my favorite things about summer in California is the fruit. Nothing compares to the juicy sweet nectar of a peach racing down my arm or the aroma of a freshly baked berry pie. Since this is my first year in my own place I have relished the opportunity to bake whenever I want. My roommates have enjoyed this spontaneity, except when our home overflows with sugar. I recently made homemade strawberry shortcake with hints of orange and mint, it was delicious if I do say so myself. But you probably want to hear about more than my culinary adventures.

Throughout this year in Santa Barbara I have been thinking a lot about trees and fruit, especially in relation to people. It’s common to hear people speak about receiving the fruit of their labor. This fruit is typically defined as an accomplishment, a finished project, a closed case, or a raise. This is fruit that one can envision from the beginning- from the conception of the idea to the preparation, to the practical work until completion. This can be good work as you get your hands in the soil, patiently and persistently tend to the crop and in the end reap a harvest. God created this labor and fruit. However, at the Village this kind of fruit is rotten and deceitful.

Our creative God did not stop at one kind of harvest and fruit. He was the first to practice incarnational planting where fruit is unpredictable, often hidden and slow in coming, and radically transformative. This is the tree of which I eat at the Village. Or the tree I should eat from. It is tempting to judge my work at the Village according to the standards of accomplishments and programs. People want to see results, taste the fruit that I have grown. I feel pressure to feed those who love and support me to prove that I have not been sitting on my hands. Eve, step away from the tree. This thinking turns my neighbors into projects and our meetings become the measure of success. God, erase this dangerous thought.

At the Village the fruit is unpredictable, hidden, slow in coming, and radically transformative. It looks like a woman addicted to Meth receiving an eviction notice which launches a crisis that eventually leads to her researching a program to get healthy. Or a Buddhist woman who comes to know that Jesus loves her because she has felt his love through countless Westmont students over several years. It is also youth rising up to leadership to care for each other and their community. This fruit might seem small to the world, including my own eyes, yet it’s nectar is sweet.

A couple scripture passages have captured my attention and spoken to my roots. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reads, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” As I strive for fruit wanting to hear my master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, I must never forget that my being is rooted in love. The work that I do is nothing if it is not an expression of God’s love. I cannot fully love my neighbors if I do not remember that I am rooted and established in God’s love. The fruit I produce will be anemic without God’s love.

Another passage that I have dwelt upon is John 15. It is easy to become detached from the vine. I get caught up in the drama of things at the Village or get carried away with work and visiting friends. I struggle with silence, true rest where I am communing with God and getting to know the heart of God. Several times throughout this year I have become dry and a dead branch because of my failure to remain in Christ. As a result I have not produced much fruit and branches have been cut. Yet recently I have begun dwelling and there are new branches that are growing and God has filled me with hope for the future. More on that next time 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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what’s wrong with this picture?

5 AM– the alarm jars me awake with its annoying persistence

5:45 AM– the sky erupts in a symphony of pink, orange, and purple as I drive into the sunrise

6:15 AM– dew collects on layers of clothes as I walk through the marsh land and down the train tracks

Guess what I’m doing? Looking for people… What?

At the beginning of March I joined almost 500 other volunteers who arose before sunrise to search for the forgotten and vulnerable people who live on our streets. On three consecutive days our teams of 3-6 people canvassed an area of Santa Barbara County in order to conduct surveys with people on the streets. This was Registry Week, one part of the  100K Homes process of housing the most 10o,000 vulnerable people living on the streets in the U.S. Many other cities throughout the U.S. have already conducted this survey and have begun housing people. Positive change is happening in our country!

In one month the committee will release information about the 100 most vulnerable people in SB County and then the long term work begins. The Housing Authority, Mayor, Police, Social Services, Churches, Non-Profits, and individuals will all work together to find housing and support the most vulnerable people by providing all the services necessary. The most important part to this is individuals and communities coming around an individual to offer friendship and help for anything ranging from rides to cooking lessons to emotional support. It is a huge endeavor and one that is so important to our society as it is God’s desire for people to have shelter, food, and protection. Getting people into homes is a part of God’s kingdom made real here on this earth.

As I wandered along the train tracks with my team I couldn’t help but think about the absurdity of what I was doing. It wasn’t absurd that I was doing it, it was completely tragic that I had to do it; that PEOPLE are living on the streets, under bushes, on freeway embankments, and near train tracks. Change is coming my friends; God is on the move throughout Santa Barbara and this country. He is stirring hearts to care about his children who need food, shelter, and friendship.

One thing I have clearly seen in the past 7 months is that God is on the move and is eagerly waiting for His people to join in His work of redemption. The harvest is SO plentiful and the workers are too few. Offer your passions to God to see where they are meeting the needs of your city, the Lord of the harvest is waiting for you.

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It’s about time, right?

As Ugandans would say, “I am lost.” No, I have not been wandering around Santa Barbara for two months only to find my way home today. However, I have been lost from your fellowship as my communication took a lengthy hiatus. I apologize for my extended silence. How I wish I could have kept you up to date on the happenings in Santa Barbara because my schedule has been full and my emotions have traveled the course of ten roller coasters. Thank you for keeping me in your prayers and thoughts even without updates. In order to bring you up to speed I figured I would share with you the lowlights and highlights from the past 2 months as well as some current events. (So much has happened that I honestly thought it had been at least 3 months since I last wrote).

Lowlights:

–       In general, a busyness of schedule. Around the holidays until mid January I worked 40 hours per week at Cost Plus, thus not leaving much time for work at the Village.

–       Our first all residents meeting didn’t turn out as we planned. Due to incorrect information we held the meeting at an inconvenient time so not many people showed up. Fortunately, we did get to meet some new residents who are great and the “failure” opened my eyes to see where I needed to improve and devote more time.

–       Emotional and relational exhaustion. It’s hard being divided between two jobs as I feel that I cannot give 100% to both. Additionally, there are some people in pretty difficult places and sharing some of God’s pain for their situation is important yet draining.

Highlights:

–       Family and friends! I spent Christmas day with some relatives in the mountains and it snowed. Around New Year’s my mom and dad came and visited me in Santa Barbara. Then, in mid-Jan I went to Chicago and Indiana to see my Ugandan friend, Adeline, and my brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces. It was wonderful to see so many people!

–       Budding Relationships: I am getting to know several of the residents on a deeper level and I’m feeling more comfortable with the youth and kids. Also, I now have a new roommate, Erica, and it has been great welcoming someone else to our apartment and Empowerment Team.

–       CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) Conference: Sometime I’ll have to share more about this, but briefly it was very encouraging. It was a two day conference with speakers and workshops talking about Christian community development. The stories of others inspired me and I spent some time praying and processing things that have happened so far in Santa Barbara.

Current Events:

–       Common Ground: This is a county-wide movement to get the 100 most vulnerable people off of the streets of Santa Barbara county and into supportive housing. This upcoming week is the registry week where 500 volunteers will go out and talk with every homeless person in the county to find out who are the most vulnerable. Here is a link if you are interested in reading more http://www.commongroundsb.org/commongroundsb/Welcome.html

–       I am closely working with a woman who lives at the Village who suffers from alcoholism and mental health issues. I am encouraging her to take steps to get into a program that will help her yet it is a lengthy journey because she must first want to get well.

–       There are 4 of us on the Empowerment Team and we’ve been continuing to build relationships with residents and are moving towards directed conversations about empowerment and its importance in this community. We are always learning about things that will work here and what is most beneficial to the residents.

A lot of exciting things happening and upcoming: Westmont Spring Break at the Village.

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“Not my gumdrop buttons!” the Gingerbread Man

Throughout his letters Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to represent the church in relation to the risen Christ. When discussing this topic we often speak about the uniqueness of each individual and their benefit to the whole. We say, “We need the feet, mind, and hands, the apostles, teachers, and worker of miracles.” In this we are attempting to remind ourselves that everyone contributes, even the loud woman singing horribly off-key.

Yet this discussion frequently leaves out the broken arm or stuffy nose. It isn’t pleasing to talk about those things. Or so we believe. What kind of body would we be if we were broken or sick?

It’s time to face reality: the body is broken and riddled with disease. And I’m not just talking about “little sins” that we forget about the next day. Believers of Jesus Christ struggle with addictions, face depression, have eating disorders, and transfer diseases. Let that statement resonate within you as it has in me these past few months and years.

On Wednesday evenings adults from the Village gather at our apartment for Bible study, which is led by the owners of the Turner Foundation. There are four or five regulars with other occasional attendees. It is by far one of the highlights of my week. In addition to the great wisdom shared by others it’s wonderful because of the characters in the group; it would make a hilarious sitcom. This group also challenges my perceptions and identity as a Christian. Everything about Wednesday nights is paradoxical to me, which certainly contributes to its beauty. Each person in attendance struggles with huge boulders in their life, boulders that church goers would condemn or be appauled at. Yet each person reveals a part of God in their love, hospitality, generosity, and wisdom.

As Paul writes to the Corinthians he redefines their identity not as “Jew, Greek, slave or free, but instead baptized by one Spirit into one body,” (I Corinthians 12:13). Would we be offended if our identity were redefined as neither church-goer, unchurched, drug addict, or legal citizen? But instead be defined as one united body with our brokenness making a whole? If so, maybe we need the truth to offend us more often.

At Christmas time one of my favorite things to do is bake cookies (truthfully that’s one of my favorite things to do anytime). The other day I got out the sprinkles and cookie cutters to produce festive treats. And of course the cookies had to be perfect. But then the arm of the gingerbread man broke, the antlers of the reindeer got smashed, and the wreath didn’t look like much more than an oddly shaped circle. They are still cookies though. From the movie Shrek I often recite the scene of the gingerbread man’s plea to save his gumdrop buttons. Oddly, I connect that to my old view of the church.

As a child I believed that the church was a place for people who had it together and that I had to seem perfect otherwise I would be shunned. Well, I came to know myself and other Christians and realized the falsehood of my belief. Now I even more clearly see how Christians come in all shapes and walks of life. There is no mold to fit in and you are accepted even without your gumdrop buttons. I welcome all to our gathering of “sinners” on Wednesday nights. The Pharisees would mock us, but I know that Jesus is in our midst.

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My ‘Bounteous Mother’

“Hey Red, do you know anything about gardening?”

I heard this question float through my screen door as a light knocking perked my attention. I lifted myself off of my usual perch, the couch, and faced one of my elderly neighbors who is quite a character.

For example, one eveing after Bible study he approached me and said, “You’re pretty strong aren’t you?” I shrugged it off yet flexed at his request. He turned to someone and said in all honesty, “She’s as strong as a bull!” To which I responded to with an eruption of laughter.

Again he asked, “Do you know anything about gardening?” I stepped outside to the community garden in front of my apartment to inspect his box and produce. “Should the soil always be wet for my broccoli? And do you think it matters where I put the hose?”

Since I disregarded my career test’s recommendation to become a farmer I couldn’t answer with complete certainty. Yet after years of watching my grandfather care for his vegetables I know a thing or two about watering plants. We stood discussing proper watering techniques until he exclaimed, “I know the nicest people on the face of this planet.”

“Well do you now, sir. Who are they?” I responded with curiosity.

“Westmont students. How do they do it up there?” He was of course referring to the “retreat center” in the hills where people go to study. “I mean, I’ve met many Westmont students and they’re the nicest people on the face of the planet. Does it attract people like that or grow them into it? Or is it because they are Christian?”

Astonished I replied, “All three in fact. We are encouraged to live with Jesus’ love and supported by friends and faculty to do so.”

“That’s a great testimony to Christianity, I think.”

We wrapped up our conversation and I walked away humbled, convicted, and encouraged. Being characterized as part of “the nicest people on the planet” is incredibly humbling. My failure to love unconditionally convicts me because God calls me to love. His words also shone light upon the powerful witness the Church can have when we love.

Westmont, thank you for shaping and training disciples. All fellow believers, let us continue to love for, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

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“Let the children come to me”

One of my responsibilities as intern is to co-lead Kid’s Club, our weekly time for neighborhood kids to gather, play games, have a snack, and learn a story from the Bible. For Halloween we held as costume contest as well as carved pumpkins with the children and their parents. 50 kids showed up in their costumes, eager to participate. Here are some of their pumpkins:

Until Christmas we are teaching the kids about heroes of the Bible. Last week we acted out the contest of Samuel choosing David to be king and seeing how God filled David with power. This week we are talking about Joseph. Each hero we’re looking at had great faith and shares some life circumstances with these children.

Another thing I am involved in is Kid’s Cooking Class. One of my resident friends, Sarinna, teaches the class every Saturday. She is an amazing cook and always picks delicious things to make. The kids love to learn and enjoy eating the finished product. A few weeks ago I taught 28 kids to make crepes. It was great. For Halloween we decorated cupcakes:

The children here at the Village are pretty special. They have created a community of love and friendship amongst themselves. The older kids look out for the younger ones and while normal quarrels happen, they spend hours together every day.

When we began thinking about Kid’s Club and the theme for the year an image of Jesus came into my mind. He was standing there, arms wide open to the driveway into our apartments, waiting for the children that were running to him from throughout the Westside. Kid’s Club is not just about the program; cooking class is not just about the food. These are times when we can pour out God’s love onto these children and remind them of their value in the kingdom. It is also a time for me to learn about God’s love as I give and receive.

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