The Mural

Erin, David, John, Erica, and I (Sara) have been working at Street Level Health Project 3 days a week.  They asked us to create a mural of the Street Level story.  It’s been amazing to see it come together.  Major props to Erin & David – our lead artists & visionaries.  (Don’t miss the slideshow captions!)

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Our final presentation to Street Level is on Friday.  Pray that this will be part of our witness and love to them & the community.  We’ll post the final pictures soon!


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.”


“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?”


“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.”


“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.


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.

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? *^_^


John Knox