A life of advocacy for the voiceless

Yu-Shuan told us we’d be in for some mutual conversion during our time
here. Only now as I skim through my journal entries from this last week do I realize
that already, my own transformation is starting to emerge.
Ally, Bhavna, and I had an extensive orientation week with the staff at
MISSSEY. We received free (yeee!) copies of Girls Like Us, a book written by sex
trafficking survivor and activist, Rachel Lloyd. A full week of discussion and learning
about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) has been heavy on my
mind and heart.

It’s extremely easy for young girls to be caught and trapped in “the life.”
Pimps know that many young girls in the area come from either foster homes or
broken families with parents under the influence. They know that these children
will hold onto whatever figure proves himself a constant form of presence and
provision. These girls’ understanding of love and self becomes twisted into what
the pimp and his violent beatings define them to be. I couldn’t possibly describe the
sad story of injustice that is the commercial sex industry in a brief blog entry. Still, I
wanted to share a glimpse of the injustice I’m being exposed to here.
I’m angry that the industry has become so profitable at the expense of
innocent children’s lives. At the same time, I do believe God is using my experiences
(coupled with affirmation from my parents) to beckon me to a life of advocacy for
the voiceless, in the name of justice in the political sphere. I don’t know what exactly
this entails, but it gives me something specific to pray about (and that’s always the
good deal).

Pondering over the individual situations of children who are vulnerable to
exploitation has caused me to reflect on the family that I grew up with. I grew up
knowing I was loved (even if it wasn’t always outwardly communicated). To say and
know that my mother is a woman of prayer, that my father is a man who fears God
has never resonated as a greater blessing in my heart than now. And then it got me
thinking about my own future marriage and children – what kind of spiritual
mother I’ll be, what values I’ll instill in my kids. Then I thought “I will start praying
over my future babies and husband now!” The worldly forces that pull kids into
trouble and men/women into sin are strong, but the Holy Spirit’s anointing of
protection will always transcend these. Totally random and untimely resolution, I
know. But I receive every God-honoring thought as a gift, and I shall hold it dear to
myself from this day on.

The little kids in our neighborhood are absolutely the friendliest I’ve ever
encountered. If only I spoke Spanish, I would definitely be their best friend. Just
kidding; John Knox already has that one covered. I’m thankful for the New Hope
community who has welcomed us to be more involved with our neighbors – we’re
having a block party! I have volunteered to run the fishing game (so I can play with
the cute little ones). In other news, the 11 of us are eating, sharing a bathroom,
passing time, and praying together quite nicely.

For my epic closer, I would like to extend a heartfelt “I miss and love you” to
the ones I love and pray for every night. Thank you and good night.

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Slip N’ Slide

On our block: The neighbors haven’t stopped with the illegal fireworks since several
days before the 4th of July. I’ve never seen them from this close before. These
fireworks are mesmerizing to stare at and pretty but in a louder, more explosive
way than I’m used to.

At our house: It’s hot! The two kids from the family that lives downstairs let Kimmy
and me try out their new Slip-n-slide in the backyard with them. It was both wetter
and shorter than I thought it would be, but still fun.
The blue teddy bear I brought from home has been in a different person’s sleeping
bag every time I return to our bedroom. I am still not completely sure who the
culprit is.

In our team: We are getting more into the rhythm of what our weeks will be like
for the rest of this summer. We all come home from our sites at different times, but
then we get to gather around the dining table, talk about how our days were, and eat
home-cooked foods together, sometimes without utensils, and sometimes without
thumbs. Then we play games, entertain the idea of collectively writing a romance
novel, and sleep early so we can pray the following morning.

My favorite thing about this team is that we regularly pray and confess together, and
in the same way that none of us is afraid to be weird or quirky, none of us is afraid
to be honest about feelings of disappointment, weakness, or callousness. I am more
able to recognize and trust that God is real and near to us because we are learning
how to be real with each other and with God.

Me! Learning about poor people and broken systems was, at first, just heavy
and frustrating. But it also makes me more aware of the problems behind the
more visible problems, and allows me to see people for more than the current
circumstances I see them in. I really want this to carry over into post-BAyUP life!

allyson jue lam 7.4.11 11PM

Wilderness Post Part Deux

Good evening from Oakland. Diving into the third week of BAyUP, I write to you enjoying the company of friends interrupted by the staccato burst of fourth-of-july fireworks. God is knitting our team closer together through prayer, sharing, and candid conversations. And though I lost my phone charger, I feel like I’ve experienced further breakthrough coming to better terms with the technology fast. I have to confess that at first my mentality was to see how far I could “push the limit” by pressing  for staff to let me listen to my i-pod during the Sabbath, and sneaking out some texts to people on my phone. I began to have a change of heart on Saturday though, remembering how important it is to unplug and remain present with the community with whom He has blessed me. Due to unforeseen complications, I and the other three guys on my team have moved in with the rest of the Berkeley ladies in their apartment/duplex. We have a room to ourselves, but now face the hardship of sharing a bathroom between  11 people. Sketchy right?  Haha, actually I’ve been consistently reminded the longer I’m here as to the actual extent that my life is comfortable and manageable. I continue to eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, and receive abundantly of the generosity of free food and the hospitality of churches, businesses, and friends in the city. Recently at a church’s breakfast fundraiser for a local homeless shelter, the event coordinators bequeathed the gift of over 20 boxes of ‘Wheaties’ to my team and me. David, Josef, and I proceeded to hide them all over our home’s 9 spacious rooms and derive much joy from having the rest of our housemates go on a treasure hunt to find them…daily!

Working at Street Level Health Clinic has been legit thus far, and currently my team and I are in the process of conducting extensive interviews of the staff and clinic volunteers to draft an ethnography about the history, culture, and vision behind their humble organization. We hope to draw poignant and representative stories and values from the ethnography that could provide the backbone of a great fundraising letter to potential donors. I have been able to interview volunteers and staff in Spanish, and it has been such a joy to recognize how much of my knowledge and comprehension of the language I have retained. By far the biggest obstacle our team faces at SLHP is creation of a huge mural to artistically portray its role of support in the immigrant and urban communities in the San Antonio district of Oakland. As you all probably know, art is not my forte, especially the kind that involves huge paintbrushes and attention to finely sculpted detail. PRAY FOR US!

 

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, my team works with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), planning an Interfaith vigil to be held outside an immigrant detention center in Richmond. We hope to unite church communities to publicize and speak out against the profile-and-snatch tactics and lack of especially legit legal representation for illegal aliens trying to make a living in the United States to avoid abject poverty and violence in their home countries. I’m so stoked to be working with this organization, because its Christian approach and prayerful mission scope remind me that there are Christians out there in our little big world that not only passionately feel God’s heart for justice, but dedicate their lives to its pursuit.

 

Prayer Requests:

1. Pray that I continue to steward the technology fast with grace.

2. I can engage with the demanding schedule of my sites and still have time and love to meet my neighbors and volunteer at a church “block party” next Saturday.

3. God continues to give me His heart for my team and the city, so that I understand just how much I have to learn from my team and the people of the community.

4. A hedge of protection from sunburns envelops my body.

5. I have the bandwidth to sacrifice my usual comforts to embrace a lack that brings faith to the forefront of my daily life. Man shall not live by bread and sufficient hygiene alone right? *^_^

Yours,

John Knox

A growing heart for Oakland

Hello again,

I just finished week 2 of BayUP.  During this past week, we moved into the Fruitvale/New Hope neighborhood, began working at our assigned sites, and had two program nights. Moving in and living with the ten other members of the Cal team has been great.  We eat and cook together every night.  We play all sorts of games, tell juicy stories, and learn about each others’ quirkiness.  We are even getting to know some of our neighbors!  Ally, Josef, and I have been playing with the young boys from the family who live below us.  On Saturday, we had a water gun fight with the youngest brother in our backyard.   It was really fun, except when the seven-year-old boy put hot water in his super soaker while the rest of us had dinky little water guns to defend ourselves! What a sneaky kid!!

I mentioned in my support letter that I would be working with women who have been sex trafficked, but my site placement has been switched.   I was disappointed at first, but I have become very blessed by the switch to Covenant House.  Covenant House is a shelter for 18-24 year-olds who are homeless, disadvantaged, but are actively looking for jobs.  Allie Hu, Josef, and I help clients look for jobs, create resumes, and develop cover letters.  At first, I was really nervous that I wouldn’t know how to interact with them.  I was scared that they would think I was pretentious.  I wasn’t sure if we would be able to develop actual relationships with them.  After a week of volunteering, I am happy to report that I am already feeling pretty comfortable, and I can see relationships forming with the clients as well as the Covenant House staff.

Every week, we have two program nights where Yu-Shuan, the director of BayUP, invites community leaders to speak to us about various issues affecting Oakland.  This week, we learned about the juvenile justice system and about the inescapable realities of hood life.  During every talk, I am always overwhelmed and shocked by how crazily messed up and broken each system is. Even though I am overwhelmed, I do not respond with action or with huge compassion.  On our second program night this week, as we learned about gang life in Oakland, I couldn’t keep my wall up anymore. The speaker told us that many of those in “The Life” view prison almost as a badge of honor, and not of shame.  In the particularly dangerous neighborhoods, people walk down the middle of the road because they don’t know who will be coming around each street corner.  They can’t even go to the local store without fear that they may get shot.  It’s really hard to comprehend that these people are only several miles away, but living a completely different life than me.  Learning about this particularly broken aspect of Oakland was a huge wake-up call that showed me how truly blessed and privileged I am. God is softening my heart for this city, and urban issues in general.  Instead of being frustrated and feeling helpless about all the brokenness, we are learning to pray and trust God to work in the city.  Regardless of how overwhelming the problems may seem, I am starting to believe that God is much bigger and more powerful than any of those problems.  Our team is starting to intercede for the city, but we know there is still so much more to learn about the city and the power of intercession.  I hope that as the summer progresses, our heart for Oakland and our heart for intercession will grow significantly.

 Love, Kimmy