Changing Perceptions

Now, I would normally start by writing something along the lines of “It’s another day at work and I’m sitting here after a well-fed wholefood’s sandwich listening and blogging during a staff meeting…”  But that would be like saying every day is the same, which would be false.  BAyUP has been sooo amazing, and every day has been its own adventure!  From orientation week until now, so many things have happened and I have been learning so much!  God has truly been blessing us with such love that I cannot find the words to share it with.  But I will try 🙂

[And now, since I haven’t posted before (sorry!) I feel like i need to start from the beginning, haha.  Here we go, marathon post!]

It’s funny because the first day at BAyUP/Orientation Week, after meeting all the other teams (who are such awesome people!) and doing like 50 different ice breakers, I thought I was in for a really chill ride this summer.  But, God surprised me (as He often does!), and I think everyone as well.  From touring old/new Oakland and hiking/touring Angel Island, to sleeping on the streets for a night and picking up recyclables for lunch money, my chill ride turned out to be a narly roller coaster.  Sleeping on the streets for a night was actually really comfortable for me.  Once I got over all the ants roaming around, I fell asleep like a baby.  Although I’d wake up in the middle and think “Why is there a tree above me? And, whoa…I can see the sky!”  Haha.  It took me a while to remember that oh, we’re sleeping on the streets tonight.  I think that happened like three times throughout the night.  I remember people would come by and give an interesting stare to the six of us sleeping side-by-side in a line.  And with the recycling activity, I think that was really hard for me because it was just a really hard and humbling situation going through other people’s trash cans.  When I first heard of the activity, I didn’t think that anyone could raise enough money to buy a significant meal.  But of course, God surprised me.  Our team of four raised $1.95 in bottles and cans, and was able to buy three day-old loaves of bread, two bananas, one carrot, and one orange for lunch.  It wasn’t filling but it put a lot of things into perspective.

From orientation week, we moved in to our housing sites. Our team has a very spacious top floor of a duplex.  We are eleven people living in three bedrooms (three guys in one, six girls in another, and the two staff in the third) with one toilet and two showers.  I must say, it’s been pretty amusing living in a house full of people all the time, but not difficult as I imagined it to be (it’s especially useful when you get locked in the closet, because someone or another should be going in and out of the room sometime soon.  Yes, this is from experience).  We get a lot of traffic in the bathroom in the mornings, but other than that, we’ve seemed to manage a system that doesn’t get too chaotic.  Some things I’ve really been enjoying about our team is our morning prayers before we all trickle off to work, (longer) evening prayers/ listening prayers/ intercessory prayers, our cooking rotations (we have seven “head chef” and four “sous-chef” who rotate around every day.  I cook food – usually Indian food – on Sunday nights.  And boy, we have such good chefs in this house and consequently are blessed with such good food this summer!!!  I’m going to miss this!  Tonight, I believe David is making breakfast-for-dinner.  If you know me, you can just imagine how excited I am right now 😛 ), and saving the best for last, our team members themselves.  I LOVE our team!  And the dynamics of our team!  Everyone is so cool and weird and just plain awesome!  I’m getting teary now that we have only one week left.  :((   Much love to you guys! ❤

We’ve been trying different ways and approaches to Sabbath.  I think something I really need to work on is prioritizing the Sabbath and understanding that we are not just the products of our work.  I think that there were a lot of lies that were instilled on me growing up, and sometimes it’s hard to break away from them.  This past Saturday, we went to a beautiful park whose name I cannot recall right now, but it was so peaceful and relaxing.  I think God speaks to me through nature, or at least, I seem to always find God in nature 🙂  I picked flowers and everything, haha!

[Now I’m just going into random stories I remember, so sorry if it doesn’t flow or seems random.]  One time, earlier in BAyUP, we went star gazing at the Chabot Space Center with the Chico team.  It was really cool, but I couldn’t help but find Saturn to be the most interesting thing there.  David says that it’s too easy to like Saturn since its interesting looking with its ring and all – and I agree – but I guess I’m not enough of a space nerd to be awed by the ring nebulas and star clusters.  Last Friday, we went dancing at the Jack London Square and met the Stanford team there.  They were giving free lessons on how to Waltz.  So I was really excited at first, but then disappointed when they only taught us four moves.  However, I got to dance with one of the instructors there who taught me a little bit of the swing, so that was fun.  Another time, we invited the family downstairs over for dinner and later watched “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” at their house.  It was interesting because they forgot about the invitation, and we waited about forty minutes discussing whether we should go down and get/remind them or not.  Some people on our team valued promptness, whereas for me, I thought it was just a cultural thing to be “fashionably late”.  I know my family does that way too often.  I think John Knox cooked spaghetti that night and it was delicious!  I had to write down the recipe 🙂  I also feel like I get way too happy much too quickly by just food.  Hmm…   Oh! And another time (I think this is the last story, don’t worry!), earlier or kind of to the middle of BAyUP, we went to a Block Party near our neighborhood.  It was soooo much fun!  Shela, Sarah Lee (!!!) and I were helping out at a fishing game, where kids would throw over a small fishing pole and we’d attach candy and toys to it.  It was funny when one of the girls decided to go behind the station and watch us do it.  She went back to the line and told her friends, “Guys, it’s not real!  They’re totally putting the candies on the fishing rod!”  Haha!  As if there was a real candy fishing pond in the middle of the street!   I love kids 😀  Speaking of kids, I’ve decided that I really want to adopt/ be a foster parent later on.  I think it’s something that’s been on my heart for a while now, and God has really been convicting me of it this summer.  But you can ask me about that later.

Anyways, other than living with the lovelies, work has been so good as well!  As you may or may not know, I am interning at MISSSEY (Motivating Inspiring Serving Supporting Sexually Exploited Youth) with Shela and Ally.  Though, I work with Direct Services and in the afternoons.  Direct Services is basically the department that works directly with the clients in providing whatever services are needed.  The first week of work was an orientation/ training week.  It was a really heavy week for me, and I think all of us as well.  There was so much information to absorb, but the hardest part was just dealing with the cruelty and brokenness of it all.  It was crazy to hear about all the stuff that has been going on to our people – neighbors really – and how little we are aware of it, let alone standing up against it.  For a while, I felt like someone just dumped a heavy dose of information/reality on me and I didn’t know what to do other than just carry it around.  To be honest, I still haven’t figured it out and sometimes still feel like that.  During yesterday’s BAyUP prayer and reflection night, however, I learned that I’ve been tying my head and heart together, letting my head do all the thinking for my heart and not being able to hurt for all the pain that can be seen around me – as a almost protective and guarded instinct.  But, I received prayer and have been praying myself for the breaking of that tie, being uncomfortable and vulnerable, letting my guards down, and just being able to hear God with clarity.

Working at Direct Services with MISSSEY has been such a privilege for me!  In our building, we have a place called the SPA (Safe Place Alternative) which is where I work/stay most my day.  The SPA is where the girls come in and chill at.  It’s where we talk, provide a safe space, do workshops, and have staff and services available.  During the beginning of my internship, I worked with one of the staff to plan out the curriculum for the month of July.  And every week (or day), I have the privilege of researching, creating, and putting together all the materials, handouts, brochures, lesson plans for that day’s workshop.  I have also gotten the opportunity to lead and facilitate some of the workshops.  The SPA is a drop-in place, with regular hours every week.  So my day normally looks like this: I come in around noon (or before if there’s a lot of work to be done), work to finish that day’s curriculum materials, hand over and talk about the curriculum with the SPA director (she is soo cool!), do random tasks until the clients come, whenever the first girl comes in, the director and I start cooking some yummy and slightly healthy food, then we eat with the girls and talk/catch up/play games/do art with them, and sometime later do a workshop with them.  Since it’s summer, there have been a lot less girls coming in than in the school year.  We generally have been getting 1-5 girls in here at a time.  They are very cool people, and from what I have gathered, love to paint.  We just had a wine tasting fundraiser where we sold some of the girls’ art pieces, and two of them sold for over $500!!  It’s really cool at the SPA, and I feel likes it’s less of a job and more of just a bunch of things I already like to do put together.  We’ve been playing Monopoly a lot recently, and [wo]man, it some serious stuff here.  Haha!  Everyone is so imaginative, and we all take the game personally.  At one time, the director of the SPA had to mortgage all her properties, had $8 left, then landed on someone’s hotel and was literally tearing up to the point of crying.  Another player always (and I mean ALWAYS) has the misfortune of going to jail multiple times in a game.  And then, the really cheap properties by the GO-> box with cheap rents are known as the hood.  When you land on someone else’s bought land in the hood, you’ll be paying rent to their crack house.  I once had a hotel in the hood.  It was kind of awesome.  As you can see, the games are very intense with a lot of emotional drive and revenge-seeking.

I’ve been learning a lot about perceptions and just how to build relationships with people cross-culturally.  I’ve been picking up things from conversations at the SPA and BAyUP program nights about the brokenness of systems (education, foster care and group homes, medical, immigration, etc..) in this country.  I feel like being at BAyUP, my general perception of things has changed.  I am learning to love, and to love everyone.  Because loving just the ones you already care for is neither true love, nor God’s love.  But loving a stranger or neighbor as your brother and sister is.  And that is hard.  I pray that I would learn to and be able to love like that.  I am so thankful of my placement here, in the beautiful city of Oakland and in MISSSEY, and often wonder what God has been visioning of this place and organization.  There is a lot of healing and love to be received here, so it’d be awesome if you’d pray for these girls and MISSSEY.

 

I want to take this time to thank all you wonderful people for supporting me in this journey.  I really appreciate your support and prayers!  And I just want to give a shout out to the Berkeley staff and students that came to visit us during program night (and Erina and Eubanks yesterday!).  It was really really really encouraging to see you guys here, especially since some of you were tired too and had a full day. We all were so blessed by your presence and support!  I was totally not expecting it 🙂  You guys are awesome! ❤  Also, I had never been to Tea Way before then, and that was sooo good! Ahh!  😀

 

So I am no longer at work or at a staff meeting, rather I am home right now.  Work was good today.  I am thankful to be using AC Transit instead of biking (as it did not go well for me the one day I actually biked!).  David and Ally are cooking pancakes right now, John is munching on nutella, Sara is in an interesting pose exercising, Erin is chatting away, and Allie, Josef, Kimmy, Shela, and Erica are on their way back from an event that got cancelled.  Actually, John is now crying because David did not put nutella in the pancakes.  Sara says that this is probably because he has not processed enough during the trip and that now all his feelings are being stirred up.  He is talking to me now, but I think this is the part where I ignore him.  So, yeah.  This is our typical dinner conversation.

 

But before I leave, I’ll end with a few prayer requests.  If you could pray for the team and I, that’d be so cool 🙂

–          Please intercede for the city of Oakland and all the brokenness it carries.  But do not pity the city, for it is a beautiful and great city.

–          Please pray for MISSSEY and sexual exploitation/ commercial sex trafficking in this world.  It is enslavement and torture.  It really needs to come to an end, and we all need to be aware and be in active opposition of it.  I have a lot more to say about this, but not now.  You can ask me about it later, or expect me to tell you about it later.  Also, the book Girls Like Us by Rachael Lloyd is a good reading about this topic.  It is an account of the author’s own exploitation and founding of the GEMS program (similar to MISSSEY but in the east coast) as well as a good narration of the sex exploitation/ commercial sex trafficking problem in America.

–          Please pray for clarity in hearing God and better processing skills

–          That I would continue to prioritize the Sabbath and grow in my relationship with God

–          That we all would remember the lessons learned and convictions made during our time at BAyUP, and bring it back to campus and incorporate it in our lives.  That we would not just go back to our “normal” ways, but become the change that we want, and God wants, in us.

–          Please pray that I would have the boldness to speak out against injustices and strength to be what God has called me to be

–          And lastly, the director of the SPA is in the hospital right now.  She is seven months pregnant and the baby has been positioned too low.  This morning she had been experiencing contractions, but it is too early for delivery.  I don’t know what is going on there, but if you could pray for her and her baby girl, that would be awesome.

 

Thank you all!  If you read this whole thing….wow. You are cool.  And now… dinner time!  Pancakes yum yum 😀

 

Peace,

Bhavna  [pronounced BH-ow-na  (but not B-ow-na or Ph-ow-na… so don’t do that…)]

 

 

Nutrients for my soul

The disciples had just come back from a whirlwind of work, casting out demons, healing, and teaching. They were exhausted. And when they told of Jesus all that they have done, He invited them to come and rest in a desolate place via boat. 

Over the last year, I’ve moved five times, worked two different jobs, lived and worked in the Philippines, met tons of new people (Filipino, expatriates, new JHSPHers, and now the CCF students), written reports, finished graduate school with honors, moved back to California and, to say the least, I’m tired….but Jesus has invited me to come and rest in a desolate place called Oakland. How is living with 9 students, and co-leading the Bay Area Urban Project for Cal Christian Fellowship students, rest?

And when Jesus and the disciples landed on the other side, 5000 men (and their family) were waiting to hear Jesus preach. The disciples barely got enough rest or food and now they are faced with the needs of the crowds. ‘Send them away to get food’ they told Jesus. But, Jesus said, “You feed them.”  Grumbling, they looked for food among the crowd and found some fish and bread. Jesus blessed and multiplied it so that it fed everyone. And the disciples even gathered baskets of left overs. 

In a place of ministry where I feel exhausted and have little to offer, I am leaning on the promise that I am and will be given much through the crowd (the very people who I can perceive as draining– especially as an introvert): the CCF students, the young adults at Covenant House, the San Antonio neighborhood. It may not equate to more hours of sleep or time to reflect and pray… but  I hope that it is nutrients and rest  that seeps deep into my soul.

  • Witnessing students’ paradigms shift regarding justice, living simply, and urban poverty
  • Seeing homeless young adults regain confidence in their self worth and capabilities at Covenant House
  • Times of prayer and worship with the team
  • Teaching on generous justice and the book of Amos
  • Participating in New Hope’s Block party for the San Antonio neighborhood
  • Hearing about the ways that my boy friend, Matt and his household of Servant Partners generously cares for an old single lady and other neighbors in their complex up the street from our household
  • Hiking up the trails of Joaquin Miller and eating Chinese pastries for Sabbath 🙂

Shift our ideologies

Oh my gosh, so many of you caaaaame! So many of you came to our Open House, beloved friends and family in Christ. I think our whole team could agree that we were blessed by your support and presence tonight. And those aren’t just words. Trust.

(I was going to end that paragraph^ at “Trust” to sound cool and concise, but I just must go on in expressing my joy in having seen and hugged all of you.) The Lord has blessed me incredibly in the powerful sense of community and relationship I possess in you guys. I don’t think you really realize or appreciate it until you spend time away from it. To have relationships in which you find yourself eager to share about anointed experiences, and in which your beloved are willing to hear – that’s a big big deal.

Tonight, I am basking in the abundance of “home” in my life. For me, friends, home is where I find intimacy, and God is allowing these spheres of intimacy to constantly sprout new branches more deeply and in new people. And so, as I finish sippin’ on my mango flavored milk tea (ANDREW JOPSON, THANK YOU <3), I reflect on what a blessing it is to be given the capacity for intimacy, for relationship. If I were hungry, hurting, or broken, intimacy would be the last thing on my mind. Yet here I am, basking in it. So thanks be to God.

I’m currently allowing God to speak the truths and great intentions he has for my life through a process of intake and reflection. Summaries of things I’ve internalized in the past three weeks: that every man is but a product of his surroundings; society manipulates systems to feed the rich and further exploit the poor; and everything is about money. (Maybe these are obvious.)

How has the Spirit led me to process this information? When I say that every man is but a product of his surroundings, I mean that I’m here – 20 years young, halfway through my undergraduate career, emotionally and physically healthy, spiritually filled, lacking essentially nothing – and the 20 year old “prostitute” walks the track as we speak, justifying her fatherlessness, beatings, and dehumanizing labels of “whore” by completely embracing “prostitute” as all she’s worth, because we were simply born into environments that molded our lives into these forms. I’m still left perplexed by this arbitrary and heavily skewed allocation of privilege between her and myself. And I’ve come to the point in my faith where I can truly sit and just receive God’s abounding grace without trying to earn it. But when I sit here, my cup overflowing, inches away from her cup, left empty and dry, I am honestly lost in making sense of it.

But what if his grace isn’t arbitrary? What if he was intentional in his heavy distribution of privilege, opportunity, options… to me? What if Israel was God’s chosen nation for reasons deeper than “just because,” but possibly because it would bless, teach, reveal more of the glory and love of God to the nations? By the Spirit, I’ve partly reconciled my confusion by deciding that I must and hereby take ownership of this privilege and grace. It’s not enough to simply receive when there is purpose and commission behind what I am given. I seriously thank the Lord that he’s teaching me this now, that my next two years of schooling will be anointed and purpose-filled. Dude, exciting.

When I say that society has manipulated systems to feed the rich and further exploit the poor, I mean that I’m an overweight man sitting on top of an iceberg, whose stubby white tip hides the boulder submerged and suffocating beneath the surface. What I mean by that is, that almost everything about my privileged lifestyle feeds on the exploitation of other people’s labor. And as I learn about this corruption, I want no part in it, but it’s impossible to leave and expect to survive. I want someone to fix it, but something’s stuck – ideology. For the longest time, I didn’t know how to pray for society because I didn’t know enough about it to ask for the right things. But now it’s my prayer: Lord, shift the ideologies of my generation to ones that honor your heart for your people, that future leaders would lead our people to a state of justice.

God is good in reminding me to never stop interceding for both the leaders and the broken. I want to take this heart of intercession back to Berkeley with me, so Holy Spirit, it’s my prayer that you give me your heart which intercedes over us (because I’m easily distracted and prone to lose passion).

Finally, I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that everything is about money. People crush each other to climb the corporate ladder, they exploit each other, they kill each other… whether it’s out of greed or a simple will to survive, everybody wants the moneys. Because money is something you earn, right? Because once you have it, you’re the owner. With ownership comes responsibility – responsibility to sustain yourself in such an unstable world. How taxing and suffocating is that? I don’t want to spend my life investing in, loving, slaving over, and fooling myself into thinking that I own what God could easily give and take away. Even before “making my own money,” I want to surrender and say that it was never mine. I believe it’ll save me many white hairs, and I believe in his provision.

Sunday, our teams spent the whole day together, learning about economic discipleship from Gary. It was a blessing indeed. The day before that, we had our block party on a cute little chunk of E 16th street. Dancing in the street with a bunch of mothers, grandmothers, little girls, and Sara Fong (whom we’ve discovered will become extremely happy as long as she gets to dance to fun music) was so freeing and fun! The community is alive here, and it’s great.

Another thing: the men in our team have taken a liking to creating beats out of weird noises they can make. That + Sara’s (new) obsession with dancing led us to a Saturday night prayer meeting, during which we found ourselves standing in a circle in our living room, motioning out and making rhythmic noises such as barks, claps, shrieks, and “OHH” on repeat. Bhavna got it on tape, and watching it play back was a semi-awkward experience for me, just cause we’re so weird. But God bless us all.

I’ve embarrassingly talked wayyy too much in this here post. Until next time, friends!

 

-Shela Jeong, 7/11/11

About MISSSEY

I have been avoiding blogging about my site, MISSSEY, but I cannot do that any longer because  (1) sites are (as I am finding out) a significant part of BAyUP, at least on Mondays through Fridays and (2) I spent a lot of time thinking about it this past week!

Since we started interning at MISSSEY, I have done random clerical tasks—calling volunteers, entering data from one database into another, mailing letters, and faxing forms. I’m going to be whiney and a youngest child and say that all of these tasks have been as boring as they sound, and I spent a lot of time wishing I could do direct services or, at least interact more with staff, or actually, interact with anybody or do something that feels more purposeful and less like busy work. This summer, I was really looking forward to building relationships and getting to know people in this community, and I was disappointed to see how that wasn’t happening at my site.

I think that is why I really love when I get to play with kids in the neighborhood. (btw sarah- I think those dodgeball tournaments have helped me so much because when we played this week, I was better than all of the kids there! They were only 10 years old, but still, I felt so great about myself afterwards.) Also, look! This is a cute note that little Edgar from downstairs taped to our door!

Anyway, sometimes at MISSSEY, I am annoyed and frustrated that I don’t get to do work I enjoy, or that I don’t get to have cool and inspiring—or even sad—interactions with clients like other BAyUP-ers. Sometimes I am hopeful that things will change, or I will change, or at least it will build character and I will learn how to whine less. And then I begin to question whether I’m actually that hopeful or just faking optimism because it sounds like what I’m supposed to be thinking. And then I decide that I need to be more real and admit how disappointed I am.

I am still wondering what I can learn from this, or if I’m even thinking about this stuff in the right way, and I haven’t had any crazy and insightful answers yet. I end up thinking a lot about how I can be very honest with myself while still being open to what God wants to do. I am still doing that riiight nowwwww.

Also:

  • We finished all of our Wheaties L Nobody knows exactly how many we started with but we think it was at least 20 boxes in two weeks! Gross huh
  • I have run out of ideas for what to make for dinner. Turns out the only thing I know how to make is roasted vegetables!
  • Harry potter!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know what else to say but that has to go somewhere in this post
  • A bird pooped on my bike’s bell

-ally, 7.16.11 11PM

Tales From Oakland: Two Divine Encounters

“Can I sit here?” He said sullenly.

“Of course,” I said, clearing away some of my papers that were slowly taking over the table.

My team and I talked more about our game plan for the afternoon; go to Home Depot, buy supplies (wood, primer, whatever Oops paint was available and that we liked), go to Office Depot to make copies, and go home.

“You should let it sit. For two minutes at least,” I gestured at his cup of generic cup ramen when he tried to peel back the lid. “What does your tattoo say?”

“My name. Paul.”

“What?”

“It says Paul, my name.” He turned his forearm both ways to show me the four calligraphic letters that circled his arm, spaced like directions of a compass. I finally understood what he was trying to say when I could see the words.

“It’s really nice, Paul. I’m David.” I shook his hand, which was wrapped in a black cloth cut and sewn into a fingerless glove, bound at the wrist by a shiny toy handcuff bracelet. Or maybe they were real handcuffs.

 

“I need floss,” I commented idly to my team who wasn’t listening. Paul was listening to what I realized was Lady Gaga, coming weakly and static-y from his battery-powered radio.

“Teeth is real important,” he said. He touched his front teeth. “They knocked me once, tried to knock me against the floor, you know. But I turned my face away, like this,” He grabbed his head with his arms and turned to the side, “so they couldn’t hurt my teeth.” I nodded, affirming his action. “My brother though, he got kicked right here, right in the, the mouth, and it was hanging off, you know. He went to the dentist and they saved it, though.”

“Who was trying to hit you?” I tried to ask sensitively.

“The guards, you know. But even if you want to do anything to them, you know, they got all the power. So everyone else just stands by and doesn’t help. So it’s usually like, three, or four of them. I think I coulda taken two, but three, or four, it’s too many. You just can’t do anything.”

“So, it was in jail?”

“Yeah.”

“How long ago was this?”

“I just got out a few days ago. Weeks?”

“So, what are you doing now?”

“Just trying to get my life back together, you know. Trying to provide for my family.”

“Who’s in your family?”

“My brother, and his wife. You know, we just gotta treat each other right, cuz we’re all children of God, you know. And we gotta think about what kind of world we’re gonna hand down to our children, and their children. Because the sun, you know, is gonna get real big, and it’s gonna swallow up the Earth. The earth is closest to the sun, so we’re gonna go first. But we gotta find a way to get to, Pluto, and Mars, because they the farthest from the Sun, so we have more time.”

“But that’s not gonna happen for a long time, right? Like we’re not gonna be alive when that happens.” John Knox chimed in.

“Yeah, but it’s for our children. And their children.”

We had been quietly putting away our Tupperware lunch containers and folders, and were ready to put away the tables and leave.

“It was nice talking to you, Paul. I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah.”

“God bless you,” John Knox said.

==============================

“I stopped in the middle of the empty intersection, and turned to head down the street on my right when Erin caught up. “Let’s go down this way,” I said. “Do you know why I decided to go this way? The answer is, I have absolutely no reason.”

I was very, very lost in the San Antonio district of Oakland, in the hilly bits above Regeneration. Each intersection had numbered streets that meant little to me as they would randomly end or have a forced turn or barricade that I would ignore by walking our bikes over the curbs. The sun was quickly setting, or probably already gone, and I had gone higher and higher at every turn to try to catch a view of the sunset.

We went down two serene, tree-lined blocks. Erin said it reminded her of Oklahoma. We went straight, and slowed down to turn left following the barricade.

“Whoa, what the heck?” I slowed and stopped, and waddled over to a bush of interesting, big orange flowers. “I really want to take one,” I said to Erin. I started digging around my bag for my pocket knife.

“I wouldn’t,” Erin said. I took out my knife.

“Get away from my flowers!” A black man yelled. He had just left his apartment and started walking toward us with his cane. “I planted those flowers myself.”

“Oh, they’re very nice. I was just wondering what the name was,” I lied innocently.

“Their name is, is, is pink and yellow flowers.”

“What kind of name is that?” I laughed, putting my knife away.

“They’re Brazilian flowers,” The other black man offered.

“I planted those flowers. They’re my flowers. Don’t mess with my flowers,” The man with the cane said.

“I’m really sorry,” I said.

“I’m just kidding, son,” he chuckled at last, breaking his poker face. “Go ahead take a flower. They’re the city’s, so don’t let them catch you.”

“They’ll never come up here, don’t worry,” I said, and finally cut a flower.

“What are you taking? You ain’t gonna just take one, are you? Take more.”

“I can’t, I’m biking home. I only wanted one, anyway.”

“Give me your knife.” I didn’t argue. He cut two more and gave them to me. I tried to figure out how to hold them, all the while with a big smile on my face. “I love putting it in water, on my table. They’re real pretty when they open up. Here, give one to your better half or something.”

“Thank you, sir.”

-Yi David Yang

Wilderness Post Parte Tres

As I first started writing this post to you I sat on the ninth floor of one of the many office buildings in Downtown Oakland, reflecting on the deliberation of those last five hours. After our meeting with members of the East Bay Immigration Coalition we came back to the CLUE office to debrief and continue to plan for the upcoming prayer vigil. I find it hard to stay present in the moment, reminded of how I was so riveted that morning by the gravity of the situation that Bay Area undocumented people face. Faithful men and women from the Pacific Steel Workers Union who have had stable jobs for over a decade are being targeted for audit by the federal government—with the ultimate end being their expulsion from their principal means of making a living.

Yet I am only witnessing the tip of the iceberg to the unfolding story of growing unrest in social justice circles across the country. To put things simply, our current administration is becoming more and more draconian. I mean, using racial profiling to conduct searches, seizures, and detainment without a warrant? Deporting mothers or fathers who have children at home, or youths stopped for traffic violations? You’ve got to be kidding me. Each new scenario that presents itself shows another facet of the brokenness our country calls domestic immigration policy. The difference is now I can finally put a face to the deplorable human consequences. And the more I see the human faces the harder it becomes to dismiss the current status quo as simply an interesting issue to discuss. It is real, tangible, gritty. It is the life and death dance worked out in deserts and cities, in the fields and the detention facilities.

Street Level reveals similar human consequences. One of them is named Carlos, a man with chronic arthritis that has spread to all major joints, yet cannot risk asking for treatment because of his undocumented status. Limping over and explaining his situation in clipped Spanish, his wide smile and dancing eyes are a thin façade hiding enormous pain and torment. In a moment the lethargy I felt at writing up interviews is gone, as I try to convey my sympathy to his plight. This man is probably almost as old as my Dad, but unlike him, could never have the opportunity to any better arthritis treatment than popping a couple coveted aspirin. Sorrow and compassion mingle in my heart and add a touch of constriction to my throat I hope is not betrayed in my voice. At the end of our conversation I realize that he knows better than to ask me for medical attention. Instead, his aim is to leave a small part of his enormous burden with me. He moves quickly toward the door, filled with the strength gleaned from understanding another human being acknowledges his suffering.

As God taught me, as SUP taught me and as BAyUP has reinforced time and again, Mercy is willingly stepping into the suffering and struggle of another. Embracing the person behind the mess, and the mind behind the madness. I feel like this lesson is being fortified in my being with every interaction with a man or woman seeking for a validation of their God-given dignity. The dignity the world denies them. The dignity that Christians often deny them too. The dignity and identity that I can recognize in my communion with them.

As God teaches me more and more through my sites, I am also learning a great deal about the hardships of living in community. Here I was, thinking that I could get used to anything for just 6 weeks. Instead after only two weeks I began to feel cooped up and cornered. If it is tougher than I thought to live in a duplex with 11 others, what must the families I see feel like living 7 or 8 people in one apartment?

Part of the dissonance I experience is in remembering how much of my summer I want to consecrate to hearing from God. I have been pushed to embrace flexibility and sacrifice control of being able to do things my way. Blocked from leaving to gather my personal thoughts with Him alone, or prayer-run for exercise at my convenience. They say it is because it is too dangerous to run around my neighborhood; too easy to be surprised unexpectedly by someone in the streets and alleys. I guess I get that. But it still feels dumb not being able to break up the work/prayer/seminar marathons except for the weekends when I have time to bike or walk over to somewhere safer.

There have also been relational hurdles to overcome. The social dynamic skews 8 females against 3 males, and Asian-American cultural style against Anglo style. I feel like I need to take the Myers-Briggs test again, unsure if my personality has altered significantly or just been exaggerated or “brought to light” in contrast to the others surrounding me in this enclosed space. Just last night I had to have a heart-to-heart with Josef John about my intents and feelings towards others. Thinking out loud allowed me to diagnose with greater clarity what was wrong. My mind as of late has devolved into being overly critical and judgmental. The taxing days and long nights have gotten to me. A spiritual gorilla the size of Mighty Joe Young named “Burn-out” is trying to climb on my back again. And like Sarah Lin challenged the returning-leader team at Chapter Camp: “When you’re in Burn-out you’re in sin”. How much more direct could you get?  When I am taking my eyes off of God and not actively dismantling the thorns growing up around the seeds He has planted in my heart, the words that He is already growing within me are being choked out by the cares of this world. The repercussions are evident: misalignment of attitude and a selfish/materialistic mindset instead of a radically transformed one.

The good news is I know this is not the inheritance God has for me, for in reality I am a person who values healthy confrontation and reconciliation. God has blessed me with the strong motivation to remain open-minded and empathetic despite being in the midst of trying circumstances. I’ve described it before as “suspending judgment to refine relationship”.

An inner city missionary once said “Kingdom efficiency is seen through an eternal perspective”. And I’m starting to realize what this means in regard to letting go of the stress associated with work, and the criticism attached to my view of people. God is definitely rehashing truths I had yet to fully internalize while inspired to write “Loving the Idea more than the Actual” on my Tumblr. If you haven’t read that then get at ittt.

So overall don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to paint the portrait of BAyUP community with such broad negative strokes.  Often it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. True to form, I can safely say some of the most life-giving parts of BAyUP community are painted painstakingly and with expressive care for detail.

The BAyUP-Open House embodied that to me so well. It was tight that Matt Kim drove out on short notice to grab dinner with me at Anh Dao Pho, and Henry Yang and Adam Kauk took me out to Yummy Guy afterwards. It was Hecka legit that a huge crowd of friends and family came to stand in solidarity with all the students sharing about their experiences. And super-legit tripled that Erica Vilay acted as the technical architect behind my team’s moving testimonials. It was such a godsend to invite people who care about us to come cheer us toward the second half of our summer journey. I for one drew so much strength and hope from recognizing that their honest praise, caring embrace, and loving intentionality reflected a people committed to interceding for us in the spiritual as we walk in the physical. Come what may, I will hold up that evening in my heart to identify what I am fighting for.

I seek the Shalom of the community as God has given me Shalom through my IV community. I seek identification with the poor in Spirit, as Christ has identified Himself with my personal brokenness and my sin. I seek Kingdom Justice and Kingdom love, as they are revealed to me day by day through His children and His word. And perhaps most of all: I seek surrender control, discipline to rest and receive from God, and the anointing to stave off burn-out with the replenishing fire of the Holy Spirit.

That’s most of the reason why I am writing to you now, sitting at home on a cloudy day with Josef John reading nearby, while the rest of my team takes their Sabbath near downtown Oakland and Chinatown. The other part of the reason why I’m here is that I feel sick and exhausted. I went to morning prayer, eat breakfast, went back to sleep, eat lunch, and then started to blog. Finally! A long interval of rest after a hard week. J

To pass some of the time during the trip where I’ve felt too weak or distracted to engage in constant conversation, I have gotten to reading Christian lit– including a novel about the community in which I’m living. If you’d like to take a gander then grab “Straight Outta East Oakland” by Harry Louis Williams II. It is a slightly romanticized picture of the streets I walk, but truer than you’d EVER like to think. Just watch out, it’s gnarly violent and ridiculously sad. Yet the message of the Gospel displayed in this book rings loud and clear, maybe even louder because of it. The way of the Christ-follower provides such a stark contrast to “the Game”.

Another book on my mind is called “From Brokenness to Community” by Jean Vanier. Thanks to Erina’s recommendation and Shela’s interest to share an excerpt of it during morning prayer, I have begun to read it in expectation of letting God’s vision for community galvanize greater faith and compassion within me with which I can love my BAyUP ‘Xiong-mama’, ‘Ahyi’, and my IV student peers.

From East Oakland this is your boy J.M.K., signing off.

–JohnKnox

Albums to listen to: ‘Thistled Spring’ by Horsefeathers,  ‘Sea-sew’ by Lisa Hannigan,  ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ by Bon Iver,  ‘A Good Day’ by Priscilla Ahn and ‘Come on, feel the Illinoise’ by Sufjan Stevens.

Prayer Requests:

1. My little brother David has a urinary-tract infection. Pray for his physical healing and God’s hand upon him.

2. My rest in God—No burnout allowed.

3. Healing from my exhaustion/cold/scratchy throat.

4. Grace to have more time to exercise.

5. People to come to our prayer vigil at the West County detention center on July 20th. I just met an asian man with a family, whose wife is being detained and most likely deported because she’s not a citizen. So messed up.

6. Transformation of my attitude, mind, and emotions to love my BAyUP team well every day in every way. Patience, humility, and compassion are KEY to grow in.

7. More sleep.

8. Continued ability to speak Spanish with alacrity. When I was speaking it every day I was getting really comfortable, but now that I have not spoken with much frequency for the past few days I am having a harder time of it.

9. Grace upon my academic records at Berkeley and the office accepting my prereqs as per protocol instead of being lame and not putting them on my record.