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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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