LAUP stories_004 | inside the house of a stranger i know

this summer, i participated in a six-week mission trip called the los angeles urban project, or LAUP.

LAUP is partnered with intervarsity christian fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.

my team was placed in west long beach.

we worked with fountain of life covenant church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.

this is the story of them.

monday, 31 july 2017

after four weeks of tutoring, playing and growing friendships with our kiddos, it was time to say goodbye.

today was our last day on site. we were to clean the family center, and make house visits to our students and drop off photos from our vbs week.

for most of the house visits, we went in groups of three or more; always traveling with our director, who could translate and converse choppy spanish with our non-english speaking families.

i thought i would spend most of my day cleaning. but i ended up going to every house, and visiting some 10 families.

each household gave us water or snack and sat down to talk, even if there was a language barrier.

the intimacy of entering into someone’s house for the first time was huge, and it was too big for me to fully appreciate what was going on in the moment.

most of the time, i let the people around me talk. i kind of just sat and nodded, smiled and laughed, fit into the group that i was with.

there was something about filling in gaps of the stories of the kids i had just barely gotten to know over the four weeks that caught me off guard.

it wasn’t quite gratitude, gratefulness, appreciation…

it was judgement.

i found that i was judging most of the houses and the families inside.

i know it’s not fair, but i did it anyways, instinctually.
my mind crept there, almost naturally,
my heart hard to receive the things these people were letting me into.

the first house we entered was quite a scene. it belonged to a little boy i had been working with all summer, david.

on a small patchy front lawn sat a shopping cart and a stroller, both filled with stuff. inside, the musky living room was taken over by a baby in a crib, napping while spongebob played on the tv above him. the shelves were crammed with toys and random junky trinkets. david invited us in with hugs, and then reclined on the couch to stare at videos on a tablet. his little sister sprawled on the ground, playing with tiny toys and scribbling into a cartoon coloring book.

we all took a seat on the couch as abuela entered the room. she stood in the doorway and began to apologize to us in broken english.

she was sorry that david didn’t come to tutoring more often, that he skipped the last day, that she had too much on her plate to always remember him.

outwardly, i accepted her apologies.

inwardly, i started blaming.

this is why he wasn’t learning… he watches tv all day, he stares at a screen, his family can’t read to him, they don’t care about tutoring.

this summer with david was not easy. he had been held back in first grade twice already, mainly due to his difficulties with reading.

my posture changes slightly as abuela shares about her life.

it’s not easy.

she takes care of up to 10 grandkids at a time, in her tiny house, which, if i’ve learned anything from managing just 7 third graders, is not easy.

she does this all on her own, and works, too; a caretaker for the elderly, which, is not easy.

my thoughts are put on pause, judgements halted.

my head understands how difficult her life is, but it doesn’t know how to sympathize.

i know that i am wrong in my judgements.
of course i am.

but it took a while for it to really sink in.

for me to find exactly what judgements i was placing where.

i float through the rest of the day listening to these stories, never really adjusting or feeling comfortable in anyone’s house.

the next day i told all this to kim.

on a walk along the dry reservoir bed of the la river bike path, i told her about how i felt entering into these houses and stepping deeper into the lives of abuela, our students, and people i had barely interacted with over the weeks.

and it was rather revealing and freeing to voice those harbored thoughts.

my heart was hard to receive, but after releasing my thoughts, a little bit of the stone covering chipped away.

i needed to voice everything, my preconceived notions on immigrants, on uneducated kids and people, on what a house should look like, on kids whose parents are not present. my judgements on the things i do not see, because that is how i begin to break apathy.

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this is the fourth piece in a series of LAUP stories. click here to find more.

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LAUP stories_001 | LAUP_date

The following two excerpts are email updates I sent out to a small group of people when I was at LAUP, or, the Los Angeles Urban Project. 

This summer, I participated in a six-week mission trip called the Los Angeles Urban Project, or LAUP.

LAUP is partnered with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.

My team was placed in West Long Beach.

We worked with Fountain of Life Covenant Church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.

14 July 2017 – three week mark –

Contrary to my own belief, these first three weeks were actually super difficult. I was pretty homesick and overwhelmed the first week, pretty tired and overwhelmed the second week, and pretty challenged and overwhelmed the third week.

I came in with a posture I often have with new challenges, thinking,

It’s easy, I got this!

But was immediately bucked from my high horse to the welcoming and humble, humble ground.

Orientation week kicked me in the butt. Four days full of talks, and discussions, and bible studies, and social justice, and money, and living incarnationally and convictions, convictions, CONVICTIONS out the wazooooOOOooo!

Plus, commuting up from West Long Beach to Lincoln Heights for the week, and eating mainly pasta and rice gives you the farts, the fats, and the carbo-loaded energy to run around,
not sit in an old, unpadded chair inside a hot, windowless, sanctuary for eight hours…
#imnotbitter #oweek

Week two was our first week on site, and getting used to working full days from 9 – 6, creating full curriculums and filling the day for these kiddos nearly pushed me into burnout.

Reflection was needed. And reflection was had.
And the hard things started coming up.

I think I realized that I initially signed up for LAUP for reasons besides what the program actually is all about.

LAUP is about community living, community involvement, and living a life as selfless as Jesus.

And I signed up because I thought it would be fun.

Of course I wanted to grow closer to God, I wanted to learn about His heart for the poor, the marginalized,
but I really just wanted to do it for me, more than anything. Because my friends and mentors said it would be a great thing to do, because I was a little aimless about what I wanted to do after college, because I wanted God to put something on my heart.

Now, those don’t seem like terribly sinful reasons, but I realized that I never prayed about it, or asked God if this was where he wanted me to be for the summer, and that disappointed me.

That said, week three has brought a bit of redemption for this realization!
As I have gotten to know these kids, my heart has begun to hurt for them, and I can feel God begin to show me where He’d like me to go.

Some of you may know that starting a charter school (in the way distant future) has been something that me and some friends have been toying with this last year or so. At the very least, school reform is something on my mind
I think that while working with the Family Center, my mind has begun to picture that future more and more.

The kids are here for a reason. They were left behind, they fell through the cracks,
they became marginalized.

I’m working with kids who are in the first grade for the third time because they can’t read, kids who look like they’re about to cry when I bring out division, kids who were just left behind because they learn differently.

And that is breaking my heart.

It’s only been three weeks,
and ideas have not been fully processed,
but these things that God is bringing up, as difficult as some of them are to [deal with],
have been very cool to deal with.

…………………..

6 August, 2017 – Post LAUP – 

So… LAUP ended.

And now, I’ve got some plans.

If you’ll remember, when I last wrote, I was barely realizing my understanding of where God might like to send me post-grad and post-laup.

What seems to have transpired from my six weeks is a desire to work with marginalized kids.

I’m going to take the CBEST (California teacher test), and apply to be a substitute teacher (you only need a BA to do it!) to see if a classroom environment is the one for me. That said, as of right now I am still exploring different avenues of how I can best use my skills of media and film and storytelling to cater to underprivileged youth in and around Long Beach and LA, because teaching isn’t necessarily the only path.

I’m really excited to see where this takes me, and super grateful that I have found something that both breaks my heart and fills me with joy, allowing me to instill some sort of change in the community I am in.

LAUP was transformative in so many ways, and I am so happy it was my first post-grad adventure. It is going to change the way I enter the working world, and how I try to impact it.

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underneath the colosseum pier | the living water

8 april 2017
jesus, i hope i can play with you tomorrow

9 april 2017
easy acoustic guitar, soft singsongy voices, and citrus lime cake.

we sit quietly in the car afterwards, speechless really. golden hour approaches, the 6pm sun is setting. we are headed to the beach.
when we park the car, the street is sunday busy, so not really busy at all.

we are barefoot before we hit the sand, flip flops in hand.
stephen starts us off as we run to the water, sand slowing our speed, but not our energy.

we jump and splash and kick in the puddles. it’s cold but it feels good

activating

a spring of life, the first taste of summer.

it wakes up the children in us.

we run to the pier,
against the wind, our jackets and towels picking up air like kites and capes.

underneath the pier, it feels endless.
as big as a colosseum, with the sun slowly lowering over white foamy waves, falling over, folding over, each column they run into.
standing ankle deep in clear water, feet playing with the loose sand, and little sand crabs, and tiny baby sand clams,
gently brushing our soles.

we stand there for a while, watching the liquid land in front of us wave in and out
the unblocked sun steadily burning our skin, eyes, the tips of our noses – unable to look away – thinking about how we got to this day.

we walk back, the edges of our shorts soggy from the last wave
smiling, overwhelmed at what we were doing.

stephen picks a washed up stick and runs in a spiral
circling it along the sand as justin, jordan and i chase him
completely careless and stupid happy
children playing tag before supper
this is a life that’s full of color

the wind picks up as we take our time back to the car
the sand behind us, a thin grey haze itching our ankles.

justin grabs a handful and lets the breeze push it from his hand
it follows the wind

we are kid_s
this is wonder_ful

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