Desiringshalom's Blog

A Missionary's experience in Los Angeles

Sermon February 11, 2013

Filed under: US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 10:31 pm
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This is a sermon I recently shared for a United Methodist Women’s Sunday:

I was born and raised in Chesterfield, VA. I grew up in the United Methodist church, and was raised in a church that cared deeply for children and youth. In middle school I felt a call into ministry and mission and did various internships that helped to support my call.  The churches I have been a part of have always been supportive of my call into ministry and have nurtured me in wonderful ways.

In July 2011 I began my time as a US-2 Young Adult Missionary. The General Board of Global Ministries has two long-term missionary programs for young adults ages 20-30 to explore what it means to be in mission and ministry, the Mission Intern program, a global program, and the US-2 program, a domestic ministry program. I have colleagues across the world doing similar things, working with people to help spread God’s love.

I was invited to serve with the Immigration Task Force of the California-Pacific Conference.  In 2008 a resolution was passed at their annual conference which created this task force. Part of the work of the task force includes Neighborhood Immigration Clinics which provide free legal consultations to anyone with immigration questions, a Know Your Rights presentation and hospitality. These clinics are held at churches so the church is seen as a place that loves and cares for its neighbors. I also organize churches around being Immigrant Welcoming Congregations.

I have learned in my time in LA that I am a person of immense privilege. I did not grow up concerned about my parents being deported; I was not discriminated against because of the color of my skin or the languages I spoke. Growing up I knew I had more than others but I did not know the proper ways to serve with people.  During two of my summers in seminary I worked in Guatemala. Many of the women I met have husbands or fathers working in either the US or cities trying to support the family. I was able to see how immigration affects families who are left in their home countries, families torn apart by poverty and global economic decisions.

Through my work I have been privileged to be invited into the sacred place where people share their live stories. My friend Mariana has shared with me her story, growing up in Mexico in a nice home with a family who sheltered her from their struggles.  When her family became unable to pay for basic necessities her father traveled to the US to try to find work.  She grew up without a father for much of her adolescence as he was trying to provide for his family.  When she was 12 her family took a trip to the US, she thought just a vacation, but it ended up being indefinitely as her parents thought it would be best for the family to be reunited again and they could not afford to be apart.  Her parents have continued to make sacrifices so she and her siblings can eat and can have opportunities no longer afforded to them in Mexico. Her father in college educated, but now works very low-wage jobs because of his documentation status.

With my work here in LA around immigration I am constantly reminded that I am called to be in relationship with people, I am called to love my brothers and sisters and from getting to know people I find myself compelled to work with them to break the bonds that oppress them, to change laws that force their families to be separated, to change laws and minds so all are truly seen as equals- like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said for a world where all are seen and judged by the content of their character and hearts and not the color of their skin.  We are called to build relationships with people who are like us and people whose lives have been different, who have faced different struggles and obstacles. It is in those sacred places where stories and lives are shared that we can begin to work with people to lose the bonds of injustice and bring to fruition the world God desires.

 

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Internment and Detention November 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized,US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 12:22 am

This summer my parents came to visit my life out here in LA. During their visit we took a three day trip to the Sequoias and Manzanar. The Sequoias are beautiful, giant trees that only grow between 6000 and 8000 feet of elevation. When one stands beside a sequoia one feels like a tiny person, pictures do not do justice to their size and beauty. After spending two days among these peaceful, beautiful trees we made our way down around the Sierra Nevadas, to visit Manzanar.
Manzanar was a Japanese internment camp during World War II, located in a desert climate, on the East side of the Sierras, an area known for its blowing winds and extreme temperatures. We first visited a local museum that had an exhibit that internees had helped create, letters, artifacts, their experiences from Manzanar. Each were very powerful. There was a photographer among the internees, he essentially snuck in parts to build a camera, but when it was discovered it was decided he should continue, only a white person had to go around and push the shutter button. There was a collection of his photos on display, showing the conditions but also showing moments of joy in the camp.  Then we headed to the actual camp. Manzanar is now a National Park, with only one original building still standing, but two barracks and the dining hall have been recreated.  My father was in the army, and it brought back for him his experience of living in tight quarters.  However my father chose that life, these people did not. One foundation left standing that really struck me was of the women’s bathing house. It was very small, too small for how many women had to share. In a culture that values privacy, I kept thinking how these Japanese women must have suffered.

I also found myself comparing the Japanese internment camps to the detention centers our country has for undocumented, and sometimes documented immigrants, waiting hearings.  Has our country really changed that much in the last 60/70 years? We are still breaking apart families, separating people from the communities where they have established themselves and their livelihoods. We are holding people in what looks like a prison, though sometimes the only crime they have committed is a civil offense, crossing a border without proper documented.
My prayer is that we as humans hear the cries of our brothers and sisters, we work for a just world, and a place where all have the opportunity to live and work peacefully, and with one’s family and loved ones.

 

Holy Spirit moments at General Conference May 15, 2012

Filed under: US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 8:33 pm
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General Conference was painful at times but there were also some beautiful Holy Spirit moments. Here are the places I felt the Holy Spirit

On Wednesday morning my friend Michelle and I met a woman, Ginger, came up to us who was handing out Good News papers (a conservative branch of the United Methodist Church). I was wearing my name tag which said I am a US-2 young adult missionary. My friend Michelle is a Mission Intern serving in Germany, we met and became good friends during our training as young adult missionaries. Ginger asked us what we did. Michelle answered we’re young adult missionaries with the General Board of Global ministries working for social justice-oriented organizations. Michelle shared how she came to join the United Methodist Church through her campus ministry. Ginger herself has spent many years working with campus ministry and was very excited to share her love for young adults with us. She also said hmm, it’s interesting how we use the same words, like social justice, but I have a feeling they have different meanings for us. She then asked us what we do. I shared that I work with immigrants. I expected either a visceral response or an a oh that’s nice but not what her face said response but was very surprised by her actual response. She said something to the affect of usually I would not be sure about this, but there is this family who comes to my church. She then proceeded to tell Michelle and I about this family that comes to her church. Through the relationships she has established with this family, it’s changed her outlook on immigration. This family is very involved in the church, the son is very active in the praise band and Ginger assured me multiple times that he knows the Lord. From what Ginger described I would imagine this family is Latino. She didn’t know their documentation status, and asked for ways she could help them. Though the family is very involved, their children have never gone on trips with the youth group. I shared that it’s very important to find a good, reputable immigration attorney in her area. If the family comes to her asking for help having a good immigration attorney would be key. She asked if she should pry into their documentation status. Michelle, who works with immigrant youth and children, replied that Ginger should just love them, if and when they feel comfortable sharing they would. The whole encounter reminded me of the importance of incarnational relationships. Incarnational relationships are the next step in the Immigrant Welcoming Congregations journey for which I’m the organizer. These relationships can take years to build, but its a deep relationship that changes both parties. These can be hard to establish with people who look and have different life stories than us but allow us to see a different perspective and be affected by these relationships. Had Ginger not met and know this family so well she would have a very different idea of immigration. It would be an issue to her and not a family. The Holy Spirit has been at work at Ginger’s church!

 

 

Reflections on the 20th anniversary April 30, 2012

Filed under: US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 3:23 am
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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the riots that started in LA after the trail for the officers accused of beating Rodney King (with video footage evidence that excessive force was used) were acquitted. I was 6 when these occurred and honestly do not remember them. I have heard of them but never known the fuller side to the story. This week NPR has been reflecting on the city 20 years after and remembering those days of riots and fires.

My pastor gave me for Christmas a collection of sermons given on the days after the riots in pulpits around the city. This week I decided to begin reading them. Through them I’ve learned of the damage done to the city, both physically and emotionally. LA is a very international city, with different communities in different sections. It’s also a divided city. I live in a community that is being gentrified. What was once a Latino community is becoming more and more hipster and Anglo, and I am included as part of the gentrification. Many communities are defined by race and ethnicity, which can be both a good and bad thing. It leads to some communities being feared, especially communities of color.

As today marks the 20th anniversary I had hoped to hear a sermon on the riots but I did not today. I was visiting a church in the Simi Valley where I facilitated and shared as part of a panel discussion on immigration. As I was reflecting with a good friend who was the only Anglo at an African American church’s remembering and healing service, I reflected maybe Simi Valley was where I needed to be today. Simi Valley is where the trial was held for the officers in the Rodney King case. Simi Valley is where the officers were acquitted. Simi Valley is where a jury including 10 Anglos decided the fate of the officers and in many ways ignited the riots and fires. Simi Valley is where I was reminded that as an Anglo I am afforded much privilege. My people have caused much pain and perpetuated much discrimination. We must remember that the fight for racial equality is still being fought and as an Anglo I must continue to put myself in situations where I can be in relationships with and hear stories of those who have experienced injustice because of their skin color. I was very disappointed the riots and violence were not even talked about today at the church I visited, but it also serves as a good reminder that these issues cannot be pushed under the rug. We must continue to talk about them and reflect on them, until the day when there is true equality.LA is still a divided city. It is less violent than in previous decades but just because there are less murders do not mean we are a healed city. Please pray for LA and communities all around the US as we struggle for justice for all races and ethnicities.

 

It’s not just a cellphone April 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized,US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 11:14 pm
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Two blog posts in one day, must be a special day!

I had a very touching moment last week I’d like to share with you all. One of the wonderful students I have come to love and adore is Carlitos, a student at UCLA. He has opened his heart to me and wonderful ways since I met him last fall. I had seen on facebook about two weeks ago a notice that his phone no longer worked well. The screen had completely stopped working so he could no longer make outgoing calls or read or send texts. He has a dumb phone like myself (sorry that’s what I call my non-smart phone that works quite well but since it isn’t smart I call it a dumb phone). I had meant to offer him my old phone though it isn’t ideal, the earpiece stopped working and only operates with speaker phone. Well last week he sent out a message on facebook that he had a new phone but has lost all of his contacts, so to please send him a text or email with your number. I sent him an email and we soon started texting each other. I said joyfully, so I see you got a new phone. He then told me about how he was talking to his mother and just explaining about his phone when his mother said go get a new phone. His mother who works very hard but struggles to make ends meet wanted to make sure her son had a new phone. So Carlitos took a risk like he does every time he uses public transportation and traveled home (taking much longer than it should with the great public transit Southern California has) to get money from his mom to buy a new phone so he could call people. His mother’s generosity is a reminder of how much immigrants in this country struggle to provide for things I take for granted. If my phone suddenly stopped working and I didn’t have the funds to buy a new one my parents would easily give me money. Yes they work hard for their money but they have jobs that pay decent wages, jobs that have allowed them to save for my sister and I to attend college, jobs that provide them with benefits and food on the table and even the ability to travel. Carlitos’ mom works just as hard if not harder than my own mother to provide the basic necessities for her babies. The sacrifice she made to give her son a new phone touches my heart and soul. Carlitos himself is incredibly touched by his mother’s generosity. He told me he plans to take care of this phone like nothing else, its not just a phone but a symbol of the sacrifice his mother makes on a daily basis. It is stories like these that remind me of why the work I do is important, why the church needs to recognize the humanity of all people, including immigrants and that so many parents just want to provide for their families and their babies, just like my parents were able to do.

 

Vacation and back to work!

Filed under: US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 7:17 pm
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My apologizes for taking so long to update my blog! I’ve had a busy few months. After my Chicago trip I came back to LA for a week and then headed to the East Coast. On the East Coast I attended a conference in New Jersey for work and then headed down to DC to hang out with friends for a few days. I even got a chance to see a US-2 in DC, Alex, he’s pictured below in front of his work- General Board of Church and Society. I had a great time catching up with so many people I love and adore, it was great to see so many friends. I was even able to see one of my aunts who lives in Northern VA and see some cousins and cute babies! I spent a worship service at the church I interned, Mount Olivet and it was so wonderful to see so many mentors and friends. I had a week full of great hugs! I met up with my parents and on our drive to Richmond I got to see another aunt and uncle, so great to see my family whom I love and adore! Then I spent several days at home with my parents in Richmond (Chesterfield County technically). It was wonderful to sleep in. On the first morning I was there I woke up to a light snowfall, clearly Richmond was afraid I would miss snow entirely this year! Midweek I went to visit my sister in Culpeper and we had a fun day of kayaking and hanging out. I spoke at her church about being a US-2 to the youth group. The rest of the week I had a great time resting and relaxing with my parents and exploring my favorite parts of Richmond. I got to see some great friends and even had a friend and her husband drive all the way from Baltimore to see me. Then I headed up to NYC for a work event before coming back to LA. I had a great vacation and was a little overwhelmed with work when I got back, however it’s now mostly under control! I’ll update soon about fun work things, here are some pictures for now

 

Chicago February 21, 2012

Filed under: US-2 adventures — desiringshalom @ 11:41 pm
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Last week I went to Chicago for a work conference. Chicago is an interesting city for me. My work conference was a training for my work as a Justice Discipler for the Immigrant Welcoming Congregations journey that I am organizing. We had our kick-off retreat here in the California-Pacific conference in late January with about 60 people in attendance. In Chicago I was able to meet other Justice Disciplers from around the country and receive more information and training on my work.

The last time I was in the great city of Chicago I was three months old. My parents decided to take me on a road trip and show off their new family. My family had greatly expanded in the past year, my parents had gotten married and now had two daughters, my older sister who was adopted by both my parents when they married and then me. So they decided to take a colicky three month old on a road trip to Kansas via Chicago. My own immigration story somewhat begins in Chicago where my grandparents met. My Polish grandfather met and married my German grandmother in this city and decided to raise their two children on the edge of the Polish neighborhood. My grandfather was a plumber, and they would talk in Polish around their children when they didn’t want them to hear what they said. Unfortunately a lot of their cultures went unpreserved in my family. My own last name was changed when my great grandparents emigrated from Poland through Ellis Island.

While my training in Chicago was wonderful, and I now have a better idea of what my job entails for the next year or so I found myself finding Chicago very familiar. It felt like a ‘normal’ midwest or East Coast city. I got to experience a ‘normal’ winter, complete with grey sky’s, cold temperatures and snow flurries. I found that when I was on the metro on the way to the airport in my mind I thought I was returning to DC/VA and had to tell myself no that is not your home right now, you are returning to sunshine and warmer temperatures. It was a strange reality to be in a familiar-feeling place, though I hadn’t been there in a long long time, returning to a still unfamiliar home.

However as I prepare to return to the East Coast for a much needed vacation at the end of this week I find myself already missing my friends and life here in LA. What a great predicament to be faced with, already missing my life here before I leave to return to what is familiar. Prayers for all those living in places that are still unfamiliar and different from their prior home.