What's Next?

A couple of days ago we concluded UP-LA 2018. That night we hosted a banquet at the house in which we were staying. We enjoyed wonderful food and conversation, honored the staff at the ministry sites at which we we served, and some of us even showcased our talents in a talent show. Needless to say, it was a fun way to conclude the project. But I am sure a common question floating through the minds of many of us that night was “what is next?” The uncertainty that surrounds that question can be both exciting and intimidating. For three weeks we heard from some of the top professors and professionals in the Los Angeles area on topics related to the Gospel and ethnicity, race, class, and power. We stretched ourselves physically and mentally through athletic competition and our living conditions. We engaged in meaningful and oft-painful dialogue as we grew closer to one another. Now we are tasked to take all of these experiences and serve as ambassadors of all we have learned in the respective communities from which we come. As one person put it, this trip wasn’t meant to be like Prom, where we simply get a few nice pictures and reminisce on how much fun we had when we look back on them in a few years. This trip was meant to be (and was) life-altering. It was meant provide us with new purpose as we head into whatever the next stage of our lives will be.

Recognizing the totality of this responsibility the staff at UP-LA gave us time to reflect over the last couple of days on all we had learned. One of those opportunities came through the crafting of our own Magnum Opus, which is essentially a declaration of the next practical steps that we would take as we returned home. While working on my Magnum Opus, one of the things I reflected on was how I could better be serving in the church. The church I have been a part of for the last few years while at school is unique in the fact that it draws members from a variety of different neighborhoods and communities in the city. But rarely have I engaged with this diverse community because I am typically only there for Sunday service. By serving in the church I have a better opportunity to get to know my neighbors and share in the highs and lows of the community. When we have a personal connection with those close to us is when we are better able to recognize the sorts of challenges our communities face and partner with greater wisdom to help alleviate these issues. In a couple of months I will be searching for a new church community as I move away to a different state for graduate school. I know God wants me to prayerfully consider how I could steward my talents to best serve in the church and community on a consistent basis.

As all of us who participated in UP-LA return home I ask that you (the reader) please pray for us in the following ways as we discern our next steps:

  1. That we don’t rush.

With all that we have learned, we can fall victim to the trap of thinking that we simply need to run head first toward whatever issues we feel passionate about without prayerfully asking for direction. Some of us may come back from UP-LA and immediately choose to volunteer at a community organization at which we previously had not considered serving. This can certainly be a good thing, but if we continuously make these types of decisions without prayerful consideration, we may miss the opportunities that God is really calling us to while simultaneously feeding the egotistical part of ourselves that tell us that we “need to be the hero.” One of the worship songs that we listened to during the last week of the project read:

Lord, I don’t want to rush on ahead

In my own strength

When you’re right here…

This should serve as a mantra for us.

  1. That we don’t become stagnate.

On the flip side, it is also human tendency for us to lock up and elect to do nothing when we are faced with what appears to be an impossible task. We spent that past few weeks learning about injustices that have happened to poor and marginalized communities in the U.S. and that have built up over decades and centuries. Injustices that are often times barely recognized on a large scale by the general public. It is easy for us to become hopeless given that any work that we might do in these areas might only seem like a drop in the ocean. God has been convicting me that when I feel this sense of hopelessness it is often because I am too concerned that I won’t be able to solve the task that is ahead or that I won’t be able to see a tangible difference within my lifetime. In my case, it is a pride issue. I need to remember that God is ultimately the only person who can bring restoration to the injustices that plague society today and He is simply asking me to use whatever talents I have been gifted with to serve alongside Him no matter how grand or simple the task. If it is God’s work, then it is good work.

  1. Lastly, that we remember to rejoice in all that God is doing.

God has placed us into an amazing community of brothers and sisters that are all made in his image and designed to function as one spiritual body. Anytime one person’s situation has improved in a way that their potential to live out God’s will for their lives has increased is always a time to celebrate and give thanks. I was reminded of this early on in the project during a prayer tour that we took throughout the city. One of our stops was at a park in Los Angeles. This particular park has a long history of gang violence and homelessness is very much visible. Although the situation has improved over the years, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure that equitable improvements are made in the park and surrounding community. But on the night that we visited you could also see so many kids playing soccer and riding bikes with their families. It reminded me of the end of the book With Justice for All in which John Perkins quotes Zechariah 8: 4-5

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”

We have to rejoice in moments like these and continue to work towards and pray for the day that this becomes a reality for all of our brothers and sisters in all of our earthly communities.

Alex - Marquette University

#UPLA18 @UrbanProjectLA

Gran Torino and the Struggle for Unity

As I write, there are only about 48 hours left of Urban Project - Los Angeles. The past three weeks have been both challenge and joy, both difficult and immensely rewarding. Throughout this project we have talked about prevalent issues of racism, privilege, poverty, and justice. We have struggled with how the church should handle these things and how Jesus speaks into them, giving us both hope and perspective. This morning we took a step back to reflect on project and then watched the 2008 film Gran Torino.

If you have not seen Gran Torino, a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, it tells the tale of Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), a retired Korean war veteran whose Detroit neighborhood gradually goes from being all white to being composed almost exclusively of Hmong-American immigrants. As the film progresses, Kowalski and his neighbors, initially at odds and seemingly worlds apart, come to share each other’s struggles and realize what they have in common. With rich echoes of the gospel (spoiler alert!), Kowalski learns to love his neighbors even to the point of laying down his life for them.

As someone from the Midwest (Wisconsin), the film struck a chord with many of my own experiences. Growing up in a largely white environment with a white father and a half-Korean mother, I have been able to glimpse pieces of both white and Korean cultures and their similarities and differences. While these cultural differences and even the prejudices that often spring from them can threaten to tear us apart, the church stands poised to play a key role in bringing us back together. The gospel holds the key to racial reconciliation. Just as Jews and Gentiles were united through the cross of Christ in the early church (Ephesians 2:11-22), so also the Holy Spirit can bring reconciliation today.

The difficult thing is that reconciliation, as this project has taught us, is virtually always a fight. We must fight our own internal prejudices, be willing to listen to the opinions of others, bear the hurts of others, and endure the struggle for unity. Yet this project has also given us a glimpse, however small, of how good unity is. It has been a privilege to converse with and listen to my brothers and sisters of many different ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and familial experiences while on this project. I have learned much and hope to take what I have learned back into my own regular day to day life. There remains much hurt in the world, much injustice, and much oppression, but Jesus cares about it all. Through this project, he has been teaching me to care more as well, and helping me see ways that the church can truly be the light of the world that it is called to be.

Erik - AIA Staff Spouse, Baylor University

#UPLA18 @UrbanProjectLA

Climbing Cliffs (Part II)

Economic Reconciliation

On Wednesday, Mike Gunn, a minister who works in developing countries, spoke on God’s heart for the poor. Economic Reconciliation is not simply about economic equity but economic empowerment. It was interesting to hear that one reason why several poor countries are getting billions of dollars poured into them but see little to no change is because we are sending money and but not helping to develop local businesses to generate more money and production. Gunn shared that when a poor country has a natural disaster, it is helpful to send clothes initially but after a certain period of time, sending too many free clothes disables the textile industry in that country because there is no domestic investment. We must redistribute business skills, time and resources in order to equip people in poverty to produce. Mike Gunn also helped me understand how people in poverty may view the Gospel different than we do. It could be hard for someone to grasp the gospel when they are hungry and just trying to find their next meal. At the same time, people that are poor may have a better understanding of the hope of the gospel than those whose material needs are met since they know that this world is not all there is to offer and that the hope of Jesus is better than anything we have on this earth (Hebrews 10:34-35).

A Class Divided

Wednesday night we watched a film called A Class Divided, in which following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, third grade teacher Jane Elliott led a class exercise to help her all-white class understand racism. (You can view this documentary online at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/class-divided/) She made all of the brown-eyed kids in her class wear a collar and took away their privileges (no recess, no seconds at lunch, etc.) and gave additional privileges and affirmations to the blue-eyed kids. This exercise lasted two days and on the second day, she switched the collars and biases onto the blue-eyed kids. As the kids who were discriminated against became the kids who were affirmed, their countenances and performances drastically changed. For example, the kids performed lower on their math problems when they wore the collars compared to when they didn’t. The results of this exercise are incredibly profound and the injustice that this exercise exposes still takes place in our world today. When an authority figure, such as a teacher or coach, degrades you, you can speak out against them but then they can use your resistance to further degrade you for not following the rules and being a “rebel.” Going through this type of oppression is exhausting and I understand why the tender minds of young people eventually believe it when a teacher says that they will not amount to anything or an institution as a whole makes this statement.

As this 3 week long journey comes to an end, these days have been a climax for me. I am excited to keep processing this stuff when I get back home and for the years to come. I am incredibly grateful for the people that have become family along this journey and for a deeper understanding of the Gospel that happened for me during the Urban Project- Los Angeles

Brooke - AIA Staff, Houston Area

#UPLA18 @UrbanProjectLA

Climbing Cliffs (Part I)

I am Brooke and I am wrapping up my year-long internship with Athletes in Action (on the Houston team) at the Urban Project- Los Angeles.  Urban Project-Los Angeles (UP-LA) is a 3 week intensive environment where ~50 college students and AIA staff can grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and culturally together as we serve under-resourced communities in Los Angeles.  Together we are exploring injustice, poverty, and racism through listening to thought leaders, watching film, having discussions and visiting museums. At UP-LA, we use the Bible and John Perkin’s relocation, reconciliation, redistribution model described in his book With Justice For All as guides for our journey.

We climbed a cliff over the last week and so I am excited to share my experience with you!

Tolerance= Respect and Acceptance

Yesterday we went to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. We spent the majority of our time in the Holocaust exhibit. Additionally, we took part in exhibits that caused us to wrestle with the nuances of free and hate speech and the significance of media literacy in the modern technological world. Contrasting the grip sin has on our world in the past and today was unfathomable. Since my initial days at UP-LA, I recognized how powerful propaganda and media is in persuading the masses whether it is in segregation, or Nazi Germany. As Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels put it, “If you tell a lie often enough people will believe it.” Many ordinary citizens of Germany gradually began to support the annihilation of Jews throughout Europe. As refugees fled for their lives and children were separated from their parents, the majority of countries closed their doors because they did not want to import problems. As I think about the issues we face as Americans, I was challenged to start thinking about to what degree am I complicit in institutional oppression. Even though I may not personally be against a group of people, I am complicit as long as I participate in a system that is.  On the other hand, several ordinary citizens risked their lives and lost them to save and protect Jews.

At the conclusion of our tour, it was an honor to listen to 97-year-old Holocaust survivor.  This survivor talked about how she lived in a 2 bedroom apartment for 2 years with 17 people (in which they argued over food rations by whispering), was captured by the Nazis, separated from her parents and fiancé, taken into a work concentration camp, starved, shaved bald, tattooed, sterilized, finally rescued by Russian soldiers, reunited with her fiancé, immigrated to the US, miraculously had a baby, and was given a second chance at life in Los Angeles.

What a gift of grace to hear her share her story as a member of the last generation that can directly hear from a Holocaust survivor!

Finally, this museum challenged the way I think about groups of people that are different from me. I have noticed that it has been easy for me to dissociate myself from vulnerable people and view them as the enemy, or irresponsible, but in reality I should believe the best in every image-bearer of God.

Brooke - AIA Staff, Houston Area

#UPLA18 @UrbanProjectLA

Hidden Testimonies

Coming to Urban Project – Los Angeles I had no idea what to expect. I knew I would be the odd ball out of the group being the only student that was not a collegiate athlete. How I sneaked my way into being a part of Athletes in Action was my Athletic Training major. Being an athletic training major one is able to see sports from a completely different angle, and there is a rare chance that one gets to see the athletes’ points of view. During the time of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L, I was able to get that perspective. Of course during the first event I got injured and was unable to participate in the rest of it. There I was able to spend time with the athletic trainer and see the other side of what it means to be a collegiate athlete fighting for something that is a huge part of your life. Your sport matters, it’s a part of who you are, it shows your God given talents and gifts. Having the ability to play a sport is a blessing, and we are able to show strength through pushing past hurt, pain, and anger for the goal of glorifying God. I say all this to come to this point. I was wondering what would I, a non-collegiate athlete who did not think athletic training was a part of her future, was doing here at UP-LA. But God always delivers the unthinkable, while being hurt and watching everyone compete God spoke to me and said “you’re suppose to be doing athletic training and you need to take your exam to become certified.” At that moment I fully experienced the saying, “God can use anything to reveal truth to you.” There I realized we all have hidden testimonies.

Here at Urban Project – Los Angeles we are getting into topics that most people would not talk about, racial tension, social injustice, the politics behind it all, and how the body of Christ has a responsibility to recognize and act on the injustices happening here in our country and in others. Being a black woman I always thought that my story and my thoughts would be unrecognized and of little importance. But being here in the house with so many different people from all over the country it made me realize that every one of our voices matters. My story matters people want to hear what I have to say. What we think about (race, culture, politics, social injustices) all matters. Coming together as a body and sharing our different thoughts and perspectives is how we can become unified as a body and get closer to the calling that God has for us.

We all have a voice and it is important to speak up and let our voice be heard. There is value, worth and hope in all of our stories and God gave them to us for a reason. Testimonies may be hidden, but they are important and deserve to be told.

Kristian - University of Missouri

#UPLA18 @UrbanProjectLA