The Return

Post FUI Update 

I’ve been thinking a lot about success since I’ve come home. I’ve had too much time to compare this FUI experience to that of three years ago, too much time to compare myself to how other staff interacted with students and in some cases it’s lead me down some roads I never wanted to travel. In general I think of my FUI experience in terms of successes or failure. I was a good process group leader or I was a bad one, I did well at my site or I did poorly, or I was an excellent housemate or I was a terrible one. With all these definitions of my project it’s been difficult to say what I’ve learned because I’ve been so busy tried to cram my experiences into a “success” or “failure” category.

But perhaps my experiences were just that – experiences. When I think it about it now, it makes a lot of sense. In the second week that I was in Fresno, my new small camera that my mom had purchases for me for graduation was stolen. I loved that little camera because it was something that my mom worked hard to get, I had wanted for a long time to be able to carry around with me (because my giant Nikon takes great pictures but isn’t portable), and was my favorite color (an awesome bonus). But when it was stolen one of the million emotions I went through was being forced to experience this project instead of just observing it.

I have been known to constantly observe life – even when I’m not trying to. It is the artist in me. I not only love photography but I also love writing. But both these forms of art can force me into an observation world, when I should be experiencing life instead.

I liken FUI to centering prayer. For those who don’t know anything about it, it is basically emptying your mind. While it sounds a little mystic the purpose is to step out of our minds because we can spend so much time in them. But the reason I compare FUI to centering prayer is you can’t judge centering prayer. It is not the type of prayer that was either good or bad – but it is something you do. And over time you see results. In many ways my time in Fresno cannot be described as good or bad and over time I will see the reason I spent the whole summer there.

Then I remember the book Theirs is the Kingdom.

“What went wrong? Why did we so miserably fail when our motives, our mission, our plans were all of high quality? Did we not listen carefully enough to God’s Spirit?

Behind my questioning is the subtle heresy that God will prosper any endeavor that is done according to his will. The corollary is that whatever fails was done somehow contrary to his intentions. The error is in the assumption that perfect communion with God assures flawless performance of his will. But neither perfect communion nor flawless performance is possible for human beings.

Success, I’ve learned, has little to do with the performance of God’s will. Sometimes we fail because of our own stupidity or shortsightedness, and we must learn lessons from our mistakes. Sometimes we fail because of someone else’s failure, or because there was too much rain or too little rain. In these cases, there are no corrective lessons to be learned.

Success is not an automatic consequence of obedience. “A righteous man falls seven times and rises again” (Proverbs 24:16).

We have a dependable God who made a trustworthy commitment that no matter what happens – success or failure – he will use it for our ultimate good.”


Believing Lies

FUI Update #6

“Val never yells at us.”

This is the phrase I’ve been struggling to forget for several days. It is like a poison in my mind, creeping up on me at unexpected moments. A piercing pain in my side that I cannot seem to get rid of. This one sentence sums up all my insecurities, my fears, and the feeling of inadequacy at my site. Because I am not like Val. I am not as good at my job as Val is nor am I good enough to be here. It would be better if the interns from the previous year were there – for they are better than me. Why did they not come?

These are the lies I face at my site. I deal with enough doubt and insecurity and then I had kids at my site tell me the very things I struggled to keep hidden in the darkness – that I was doing this all wrong. The disaster began on Thursday afternoon. One of my kids left a giant mess of paint in one of the back rooms and failed to clean it up when they left. Paint was left out and the couch now had six new colors on it. The room was a mess. Since neither Kevin nor I knew who had actually left the mess of pain, we decided that the kids needed to be punished as a group. The room was a community space and as a community they did not treat it was respect. No one was taking responsibility for the mess and when confronted about it, they all blamed each other. The punishment then was to take away computer privileges for the day

When we told them we faced screaming, yelling, and near cursing from almost everyone. They couldn’t understand why we would punish the whole group for one person’s mistake. They blamed each other, never taking responsibly for the mess. Then when they could no longer blame each other, they took their frustration out on Kevin and I. I was fine until I heard the potent words: “I wish the other interns were here, they were better.”

I tried to keep my cool but inside I was broken down. Little did that person know how much words can hurt, and especially myself I have developed a reputation for being blunt and I speak truth even when it hurts. But when lies are shot at me like bullets, I cannot escape their piercing sting. But this wasn’t the truth. No, these were lies and that is why they hurt so much.


Staying for the Need

FUI Update #5 

There is a part of me that wants to remain in Fresno for the need. Yes, after my last update it seems a little shocking that I would consider to stay in this place but the need draws me closer. Unable to ignore this consistent need, I am fueled by a passion to fix broken things. Because if I don’t do it, then who will? For many of my friends at FUI when they leave – their ministries will remain mostly in tact. For some of us, as we leave, so do the ministries. You see, after I leave FUI Light and Life Urban Ministries will cease to exist as it does right now. The current staff are following God’s call elsewhere. It appears that this ministry is hanging by a thread, these kids are left here, alone, and there is a huge need to love them. They will have to say goodbye to those who have spent so much of their lives investing in who they are now and deal with the reality that the structure of what they know is going to change.

When I first put all the pieces together of what was happening – I was infuriated. How could God possibly allow this to happen? Why would he not only call most of the Light and Life staff away – but not ensure anyone worthy to take their place? Why did he not call me – aren’t I qualified enough to keep this ministry going for as long as needed. Yes, I know the kids will have the free lunch program, they will have tutoring, they will have computers, and they will still have their friends – but will it be done through the love of Christ? That I cannot give an answer to. So it is up to me to stay here and keep the ministry alive – to do God’s work.

After I thought about this some more, I realized the problem was not the need, but the problem was the lack of trust in God. I can’t stay just for the need because there will always be a need. There will always be a need for Christians to love on their neighbors and I would never get anywhere in ministry if I solely stayed for the need. I would then fuel my life on the needs of other people. I need to be called here – by God and not by untrusting self. Because staying for the need alone means I don’t trust God to take care of that need. If I dropped everything right now, without the call from Christ to do so, I would be telling God that I don’t trust him to take care of the kids in the Summer Park apartments and that I could take care of them better than he could.

How arrogant and self-centered of me to even consider that I could do ministry better than God can. In reality, God doesn’t need me to do ministry, but he calls me into that I might benefit from it. I had forgotten that is how I ended up in Fresno for a second summer – that God called me to address a need. A need to serve students as well as a need to see more change in my own life.

But the needs of others are so overwhelming, I keep telling myself. Will Mariana ever feel the true love of a father who doesn’t disappoint her? Will Teshira ever learn how to love her sister and friends as Jesus loved his, will Andy learn to forgive his mother for leaving their family? Will Sandra learn to respect her friends? Will each of these kids I spend several hours with every day learn to experience the rich love of Christ, if I’m not there to show it to them? Again I can’t escape my own selfish desire to take ministry from God. For whatever reason I want to keep control over how these kids will experience God.

Paul faced the same struggle. He wanted to visit his brother Timothy but was unable to do so. “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy…” (2 Timothy 2:4). It was his one goal, to see the man he spent so much time in ministry with – which he never saw happen. God refused to allow it to happen because Paul was not needed there, God was. Timothy had been sent there by God and Paul could only write to him. In the same way – I am not needed at the Summer Park apartments, God is. And God is powerful enough, and wise enough, to decide who he wants to help him there.


Reality Limbo

FUI Update #4 

On Saturday I had to retake part of the CSET exam and ventured out into the real world to do so. The testing site was all the way in Clovis. For those of you not familiar with Fresno think of nice rich suburb right next to a bigger city, the Sierra Madre to Pasadena if you will, and in the boonies of Clovis at that. While I took a break from FUI activities to review and prepare for my test, I noticed a few things.

I remember re-entry being difficult the first I participated in FUI. I remember being angry about any injustice I saw and the apathy I thought I saw in everyone around me. I was very prideful, but I meant well. I also heard continued stories of people having the same reactions – hatred toward the rich and the indifferent. But this time, it was different.

After spending about three weeks living in intense community where the plumbing doesn’t always work and fridges break and you get paid very little and everyone is around you all the time – I was so thankful to be away from it all. In fact I was not repulsed by any of the overspending I saw around me. The better stores, the bigger malls, cleaner streets, and all apparent lack of diversity in the richer part of Fresno did not disturb me, but allowed me to forget about what realities were downtown. I was comfortable, and I hadn’t felt that in a long time. I could blend back in with the landscape. I could drive my car wherever I wanted because I wasn’t worried about gas. I could eat wherever I wanted because I wasn’t worried about money. I could drive by myself because it was a “safer” part of town. In short I was relaxed.

Being in the city had really broken me down it seemed. I was tired of having to care so much about the people around me. In a place where I see a lot of brokenness – I had to care. The poor aren’t hidden behind gated walls, they are right there in street for you to see and for them to be seen. When I went to North Fresno, it was all hidden beneath flowerpots and paved streets, behind large gated communities and inside mansions. I didn’t have to face anything I didn’t want to because everyone was hiding from each other.

I was tired of having to constantly be present in community. When you live with seven people and are around thirty constantly, you are always on display. Your faults are magnified to extreme degrees because they just come out in this type of environment. But on Saturday I could blend in. I could sit in a restaurant or a coffee shop and have no one talk to me if I didn’t want to talk to them. I could drive in my car and ignore people walking on the street, if I actually saw any. I could basically be whoever I wanted to be – hip, cool, trendy, studious, silent, funny, or anything else. I wasn’t forced to deal with the negative aspects of who I was that come out in living with so many people.

In North Fresno my fridge wasn’t broken, my toilet wasn’t clogged, my laundry didn’t cost money, my car wasn’t teetering on empty, my air conditioner blasted, and I sat alone to drink my coffee. I don’t know what scared me more. Was it spending a whole day in North Fresno where I blended in, became invisible, and forgot all about the poverty less that twenty minutes away? Or that I liked it?


Hard to Love

FUI Update #3

Time moves slower in Fresno - or maybe time moves slower while you’re in FUI but this week feels like a month. I give credit to the heat and to the amount of work I’ve been doing all week.

So I last left you with my thoughts about our disconnect situation but now I’ll update you as to the on goings of my site. I am placed and Light and Life Urban Ministries that does ministry out of an apartment complex. They have after school programs, teen clubs, bible studies, and so on. The ministry is all about building relationships with kids and giving them a healthy place to go to instead to find connection instead of in gangs or other troubling activities. I was very excited to be placed there because not only do I get to work with one of my friends from when I did FUI three years ago, but I also get to play with kids and teens, as well as swim as every day.

But it was nothing like I expected. I am not sure what exactly I expected, if I thought the kids would behave well or if I thought they would respond well to new people entering their lives but I neither really happened. First off, the ministry recently moved out of the Ranchwood Condominiums into Summer Park Apartments in the last year. So it wasn’t as established as I was thought - only a year in the site people are still getting to know each other. Also the high school kids are mostly at camp (The Oaks in Lancaster that World Impact runs) and the teen program only has Jr. Highers. Jr. High kids take a special kind of love let me tell you. And lastly, the woman who is in charge of the teen program, Val went out of town on the second day of working there.

So Kevin and I (who are work in the teen club) felt as if we were left to create activities for teens who barely knew us, weren’t sure if they liked us, and would rather spend all there time on the computers. I saw kids physically fighting over time for computers, constantly slapping each other, calling each other names, and even heard a few small racial jokes pointed towards me. Loving these kids has been a challenge and an adventure. I wish I had a good story to wrap up these struggles about how Kevin or I did something and all was better but we are still in the midst of learning to love kids who are difficult. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Experiencing the Disconnect

FUI Update #2 

Currently I am at Light and Life Urban Ministries with Mariana, Akira, and Javel in the computer room. While they are enjoying be on MySpace - I thought I would write an update....

I never realized how big of a deal it was to have limited resources until I came back to FUI. Living on a budget of $35 has been a bigger strain than I thought. It’s not just about food - but gas and savings and other living expenses (which is why we still have four chairs for seven people in our apartment). But what has gotten to me the most is the driving. 

I live about fifteen minutes away from the Pink House at Stone Pine Apartments. Now that may not sound like a big deal but I’m seeing that everything on our approved list of places to go is situated to be convenient for those living in the Pink House. We have a grocery store list and a church list - which are all in the neighborhoods of the Pink House. Normally that is not a big deal for me, but rather a little annoyance. But with our limited gas funds and our limited time, it has become a bigger hassle than I expected. I not only have to drive to go our class, but also to get groceries and to even go to church. I have not been happy with only sleeping and eating breakfast our apartment because it takes so long to get to and from here. 

Then I realized that many people live similar lifestyles - if not worse. For example in the West Side of Fresno - there are no close or affordable grocery stores. And there are also a limited amount of gas stations so those with cars have to drive farther to get gas. Without good produce and food, it’s not wonder that our obesity rates have gone up. It would be better if Fresno’s public transportation system were better. I have yet to actually use it, but I have not heard good things. I don’t really enjoy feeling frustrated for living far away or for having to drive a lot, I can appreciate how this struggle is making me understand, just a little bit more, how difficult it is to live in the city and in poverty.


The Empty Apartment

FUI 2010 has arrived! Here are some of my reflections of the ongoing during this summer project in Fresno.

FUI Update #1: 

So Sarah and I caravanned to Fresno today and arrived late of course (thank you grapevine construction) but in a surprisingly cool Fresno. We started our staff orientation with a wonderful time for a retreat of silence, which was very much needed because as Sarah and I got to our new apartment, we found it completely empty. We had hoped for some furniture, but there was nothing, not even toilet paper. I don’t think I did not have that time to center on our project; I would have been in such a good mood as I am right now. We set up our beds and we have one chair, a few kitchen items, and thank God – a light in the living room (for none of the bedrooms have lights). We have another day of staff orientation before students come but we are here and safe, and surprisingly cool.

Things to pray for:
Good attitudes for those living in Stone Pine Apartments because we are starting from the ground up on apartment necessities and that we are not jealous of those living in the Pink House. That this cool weather persists because it is AMAZING and I think it keeps people more level headed. That God will really prepare the hearts of students arriving for this trip.