Intentionality part 2

Each weekday we go to our different ministry sites where we come alongside partners and help with various tasks or programs for people in their neighborhoods. This work often involves serving kids and we get to observe how our partners are leading in community development and living out the 3 R’s. To help us understand the systemic and historical injustices in one of our sites, Nickerson Gardens in Watts, we watched and discussed a mind-blowing and heartbreaking documentary called Crips and Bloods: Made In America. The film explains how policies by those in power in LA have affected the African-American communities and created the environment in which the gangs formed. Some of the policies included: housing covenants to keep “undesirables” out of white neighborhoods (enforced by police), the war on crime/drugs which meant brutal treatment and over-incarceration of black men with disproportionately high sentencing for crack cocaine and other non-violent crimes, and failed promises for development by powers outside the community (in the typical needs-based approach), among other factors. Instead of the powers that be thinking “maybe we’re doing the wrong approach,” the gang members became the scapegoat and they think “this just proves they are unredeemable.” With many homes broken up by systemic issues, many fathers and civil rights heroes in prison or dead, and disenfranchised by white society, gangs were formed for belonging. Some of the former gang members said they “joined the gang for protection, love, unity, to be part of a family,” and they “got tired of being a victim and wanted to be a victor for once.” It is a complex problem and hard to fully explain or comprehend, but one that is definitely rooted in a history of unjust systems and policies. God calls us to see gang members as humans with the possibility of redemption and to advocate for systems and policies that promote restorative justice.

One local ministry site I want to highlight is the one I’ve been at which is Faith in Christ, a church and community center in South Central LA, which has been lead by Pastor Joe and his wife Gwynne brown for decades. One aspect of Relocation that must be emphasized is the importance of not coming in as outside saviors, but coming in looking for what God is already doing through the locals in bringing his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Joe and Gwynne’s house is attached to the church, and their services to the community include food and resource distribution, hosting local kids for activities and Vacation Bible School, and sheltering the homeless. They work and serve tirelessly and without any other staff, they are often are in need of more volunteers. Gwynne and Pastor Joe are truly saints that I want to learn from.

We have very gifted students here from different Athletes in Action chapters who are going into careers like public policy and law. Seeing them be heartbroken over what they see as ignored injustices, it gives me chills to think about the potential for what these students who have so much power and empathy might do with their lives and careers to promote Shalom and restoration, drawing from what we’ve experienced here together.

Jonathan Newman

University of California- Berkeley

Ministry sites

Every afternoon during the week, we all split up into smaller groups and go to our ministry sites where we get to serve and interact with kids and our AIA partners. The sites include the Boys and Girls Club at Ramona Gardens, Nickerson Gardens, The Ed Center, Pasadena and Faith in Christ. Each of these sites have a different purpose to serving God and the community and I have really enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories from week one. I get the privilege of going to the Boys and Girls Club at Ramona Gardens along with my awesome group members Chris, Eleanor, Imani, and Crosby.

From day one, the staff and kids were so welcoming, and I just knew that we were going to be in for a fun three weeks there. Ages range from kindergarten through high school, and it’s been so cool seeing the dynamics of the place and how the kids look out for each other no matter what age. We spend our afternoons there playing different games and sports with the kids. My favorite activity so far has been staff vs kids dodgeball because the kids are so good and it’s fun to see them work together and play as hard as they can. The kids just finished school this past Friday, so we spent the last two days cleaning up the gym/game room and repainting the floors and walls to help the staff transition into summer. After just one week, I have met some pretty incredible kids who are so funny and full of life. I’m always so excited to go to this site every day because of the kids and my energetic group. I pray that the kids see the love that we have for each other and the joy we feel every time we step into the gym ready to have fun and just be present. Words can’t express how excited I am to see what the next two weeks have in store for us!

Olivia Sargent

University of Virginia

My time so far

So far, I am really enjoying my time at Urban Project – Los Angeles. I am learning principles that I get to apply to my faith, sport, and life. This week we have been introduced to various neighborhoods and ministry sites around Los Angeles. I have been overwhelmingly amazed on how rich the culture is in the city of Los Angeles.

In reflection of the past couple days here at the UP-LA house I really enjoy how well everyone is bonding and building in community together. I am fascinated how everyone has come from different backgrounds and walks of life, but all can become one family. I see how we are living in the body of Christ and living in the presence of God’s love.

Around the house, we have an encouragement wall and everyone in the house is already posting notes of encouragement for people in the house. I think this goes to show how everyone has already began to have a lasting impact on people. We aren’t even finished with one week and this house feels like a family. My hope is that people continue to use the wall and send encouragement to our home community.

Peace, love, and positivity.

Philip Hassell

Ohio State University

One week complete

A full week is done here in Los Angeles. This Sunday gave us the opportunity to recharge for the week ahead, while still reflecting on what we’ve learned thus far. First, we started off the day worshipping the Lord at one of our ministry sites, Faith in Christ.

Although I serve at a different ministry site during the week, it was so easy to see how faithful Joe and Gwynn Browne are. It is seen in their loving marriage of over 40 years, but also their incredible ministry. They run a church and community center that provides life, resources, and hope to South Central LA. This morning Pastor Joe reminded us that to grow in Christ we must be willing to confront our issues. This is essential in the process of becoming all that God intended us to be. King Asa in 2 Chronicles was a good example of how we should strive to confront these issues. In chapter 14:2, the bible says “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord.” This provides a good standard for how to check the quality of our actions and thoughts. This message definitely left lots of room for each of us to reflect on the areas of our lives where we need to ask God for assistance in meeting that standard.

With an afternoon off, friendships got to flourish further. Some of the group went to the beach and enjoyed competing in some spikeball and volleyball, while others simply enjoyed watching rising pro athletes compete at the Drew League. This was a nice chance to grow closer and recharge for another week. Before looking ahead, we took time tonight to reflect on the first week. We separated into men’s and women’s groups, but only after we all ate some cookies together. In these groups, it was amazing to hear how the first week impacted people.

For me, the first week really challenged me. It was tough to see how differently everyone experiences “reality.” Our week one topic was how relocating to different areas is essential to understanding the needs of someone else. Relocating allows people to experience similar realities. I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by this topic. As the week went on, I was reassured that relocation doesn’t have to be a drastic thing. Some people are called to make literal relocation changes in where they live, but others are simply called to relocate their conversations or talents. Everyone can make a difference in a way unique to them. God blessed us with special abilities to use for His kingdom. It is up to us to investigate where the Lord is calling us.

Please pray for each of us here to stay optimistic and hopeful for the future. Pray for each of us to lean in closer to the Lord to see where He is calling us. Pray for another successful and enlightening week of humble work.

I also learned a lot at my ministry site, The Ed Center. The Ed Center serves low income families through providing tutoring services at a lower price. This week we assisted in fundraising and getting donations for the summer camp coming up. My biggest realization is how tiring and tedious the “dirty work” of non profits are. It was exhausting getting so many “no’s.” It makes you really appreciate the fearless leaders God has placed in these ministry sites.

Please pray for renewed strength and health for each of the ministry site leaders. Pray for reassurance in their work. Also pray for them to not lose hope or faith, but to lean into the Lord harder.

Christine Jarman
University of Virginia

Our responsibility

This week at the Urban Project – Los Angeles (UP-LA), we are discussing the principle of Reconciliation, one of the 3 Rs for community development as posed by Dr. John Perkins, author of With Justice For All. Reconciliation is to bring back to right relationship and requires the defrauded parties to be made whole, not just apologizing for the offense. To learn more about this topic and discuss it further, we watched the movie The Color of Fear. This movie was about eight or so men from various ethnic backgrounds, who had never met before, coming together for a weekend retreat to have conversations surrounding race and ethnicity in America.
During this movie, one of the men made the statement that it is the responsibility of white people to educate their white brothers and sisters about racism in the world. This statement hit me. How many times have I not said something when someone made a racist comment? How many times have I stood idly by when comments were made about a person of color? Moving forward, it is my responsibility as a white woman and a Christian to confront and engage in difficult conversations surrounding race and justice.

Please pray that we would have the boldness to continue to engage in discussions about race, that God would allow us to see people the way He does, and that God would illuminate any past hurts we have inflicted upon others so that we may wrestle with it and reconcile ourselves back to Him and our brothers and sisters.

Kaitlynn Hedelund
UNC Chapel Hill