Category Archives: Mission Year

practices

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One of my friends is currently doing his yearly campaign leading up to Thanksgiving – #warongrumbling.  For forty days he (and others who choose to join him & his family) posts something specific he is thankful for that day.

I am trying to join this year – but don’t always get onto social media – or remember some days.  But there is something about this practice. Verbalizing our thankfulness or writing our gratitude down can solidify it – making more of a practice of finding the good in each day, in each moment.

This is a practice that was suggested to me during Mission Year by my city director.  And I would do it for awhile, notice my attitude shift, and slowly stop doing it. As I lost my perspective, eventually I would find myself frustrated, more likely to grumble, until I remembered (or somebody reminded me) the practice of daily thankfulness.

[Just last week my roommate noted that during the year he could tell if I had been writing my thankfulness list or not]

How easy it is to lose focus.  To get so distracted by some person or situation that is drawing energy that we miss out on the good.  There are moments of growth and beauty happening every day.  I know that when I slow down and focus and listen, it isn’t that difficult to see God. But taking the step to stop, to slow down, to be mindful is not always easy.

What would my life look like if I consistently practiced gratitude? How would it impact my attitude?  How might it impact the people around me?

 

[photo credit – Kelly Hudgins]

transitioning

It seems like the entire month of July was spent on the idea of transitioning well and/or finishing strong. Questions were asked such as:

  • What relationships can you push into these last weeks – at home, service sites, church, in the neighborhood? And how do you say goodbye well?
  • Which of the Mission Year values have you been drawn to more? How will I continue those after Mission Year is over?
  • What makes me come alive? What and where am I feeling called to?
  • What does it mean to finish strong with my teammates? How can we continue to be honest at the end? What does communication look like once the year is over? How can we celebrate this year together?

All that to say, there was a lot of reflecting and conversating during July. Lots of celebrations – breakfast one last time with Uncle, lunch @ Marcelina’s, meals with co-workers, an open-house at our place,”the last” affirmations and devo.

This culminated in Closing Retreat. Plenty of stories to share from our time in New Braunfels, but suffice to say – much laughter, more reflecting, relaxing by the river, good food, great conversations.

Now, the part many of you have been waiting to hear – I know because it’s the question I’ve been asked since May? April even? – What are you doing next, Kevin?!?!?

Well, turns out I’m staying in Houston!  Through a series of events, I applied and was offered a job at my service site, Raul Yzaguirre School for Success as Teacher’s Aide in English at the Primary Academy.  Currently looking for housing, staying with some friends. Though I can’t say I love the weather here, I’m excited to continue to mold young minds, explore Houston, enjoy the arts/culture and invest in relationships that I’ve made this year.

Stay tuned for more Houston adventures!

Solidarity (7)

Coming into my year in Houston, solidarity seemed pretty straight forward – Do things the way people around you are doing them.  Live as close to possible the same lifestyle, to better understand and come alongside my neighbors. So what did this look like?

It meant taking Metro (or walking) as my means of transportation.  Many of my neighbors had their own car, but on our budget it was either Metro or a super cheap, shared car for the house. Using Metro meant not always being able to get where I needed to go – more walking! And being on a somewhat unpredictable schedule – a continuing, built-in lesson in flexibility and patience for the year.  I also experienced the inconvenience of riding the bus with the week’s groceries because there is no grocery store within walking distance.  Many of my neighbors would complain about this as well – especially the older neighbors.  Why is there no easily accessible food in our neighborhood?!?

Speaking of food, my team and I lived on a budget.Each week we had a limited amount to spend on groceries, which meant some strategic meal planning.  This forced us to make choices on what is important – when do we get more toilet paper, dish soap, lights? It also put us in a place to rely on the “provision of the Lord.”  And while that sounds “Christian-y,” there were many times when our needs were met (and exceeded) by food leftover from a Food Fair or somebody offering to drive some of us home from work.

Solidarity meant using the Washateria (laundromat) instead of a washer and dryer in our house.  This, again, forced me to consider my budget, making sure I would be able to have clean clothes for the month.  And it also showed me the relationships that can form through solidarity.  Often I would witness neighbors connecting & catching up with each other while doing their laundry.  The Wash is a place to find out neighborhood news and re-connect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.

And, as I write this post-Mission Year, I continue to think what solidarity can look like in my life. Where will I chose to spend money? What kind of balance can I make between using Metro and a car?  How does my money impact the people and community around me (shopping/eating local vs. chain)?  Does the place I live fit me – and does that support the gentrification of a neighborhood?  Plenty to consider.

Community – tbt

[This is a guest post from my teammate, Joshua, back from our first Come and See weekend in February]

I have been given the topic of ‘Community’ to speak about. If that sounds incredibly broad, it’s because it is. ‘Community’ essentially encompasses every experience I share with any or all of the 7 other people I live with; every conversation, every joke, every wish goodnight. And because even at work I am constantly accompanied by the members of my community, the reach of experiences shared with the people I live with stretches to practically every waking, and non-waking, moment of my life from September to this moment. Distilling the transformatism of such a wide array of experiences into a three-minute segment is even harder than it sounds, and I believe that, in the end, the best that I can do is try to communicate what my community means to me. I’ll try not to get too sappy. I’ll probably fail.
I lived, from the time I was 11 to the time I was 17, with a central individualistic philosophy: people were unreliable. People lied, people broke promises, people only really cared about themselves. And so, if no one was reliable, I would rely on no one. In October 2014, around the time of my 19th birthday, I discovered that although my philosophies had since changed, the scars left by living in this way for so long remained; there was not a single person in my life who actually knew who I was. I felt lonely for the first time in my life, and I could not even express how I felt to anyone effectively because they did not know me, and I did not trust them.
I realized with some irony a few weeks ago that it was at this time in which I felt so completely alone that I also felt unsure of my decision to jump headfirst into college, and was encouraged to consider taking some time off to pursue missions. It was at this time that I remembered the blind commitment I had made in the summer of the previous year to serve with some organization called Mission Year.
Prior to this year I had never heard of an intentional community. When I say I made a blind commitment to serve with Mission Year, I mean blind. Actually, prior to National Orientation in Chicago, I didn’t really know what the handbook was talking about when they said ‘intentional christian community’. It sounds so vague and overgeneral when you think about it; ‘intentional community’, literally, ‘living together on purpose’. And yet, amusingly, ‘living together on purpose’ is basically what it is. It’s very simple in theory, and almost revolutionary in practice.
When you live together on purpose, your personal barriers start to disintegrate. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Intentional Christian community blocks all other routes except forward, and everyone moves forward together. When you walk in a group, and someone falls, or stops, or starts walking in a different direction, everyone else notices. They pick them up, pull them along, call them back, and keep moving forward. This is how intentional community works.

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Under these conditions, one almost can not be alone. Under these conditions, one is shown time and time again that trust is both a necessity and an expectation. Even if you do not rely on others, they will call upon you to be reliable. Trust breeds trust; it is difficult to remain doubtful of people who are themselves putting their faith in you.
Slowly, day by day, week by week, I found myself learning to trust, learning to open up to these other people as they began to open up to me. Watching a group of people steadily grow in trust and closeness with one another has been a singular joy, matched only by the joy of discovering true community after almost a decade of solitude. Now, Rome wasn’t built in a day; these developments take time, but they are facilitated by simple, day to day interactions.
Wild laughter, walks in the neighborhood, sharing and expressing our passions, late night conversations, family meals, quiet evenings spent just being near one another. Moments like these are how a community is built, and that progress is maintained by a commitment to making these moments not the exception but the rule.
We aren’t even halfway through our year together. That means our community should be, at best, about half as good as it’s going to get, but I stand convinced that our community is going to get there. The ultimate strength of christian community is that regardless of the flaws of the individuals involved, as long as there is love and the will to move forward, a community can succeed. We aren’t perfect. Our community isn’t perfect. But our love for one another pushes us to do better and to aim higher, and as long as we hold on to that love,  I think we’re going to be alright.

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Justice (6)

Emancipation: An Exhibit

Early on in third trimester of Mission Year our team started discussing the looming Justice Project.  We knew of it from the beginning of the year, and I always thought it sounded rather intimidating.  What can my team and I do that will help combat/bring awareness to some injustice we have noticed in our neighborhood/community?

Living in Third Ward, Houston – our neighborhood comes with a negative stigma.  And with its location close to University of Houston and the Light Rail, is prime for gentrification. Our team decided to fight against gentrification by showing the value of our neighbors and community.

Since we all are co-creators, and we knew several of our neighbors were creative, we decided to host an art exhibit.  The question we posed to ourselves, our neighbors and eventually to all who came to the exhibit – “What does emancipation in Third Ward mean or look like to you?”

 

 

There was beauty in the process. My teammates and I had several discussions about how to get neighbors involved, where to have the exhibit, how/where to promote, what the event would look like, etc. It was tough at times, but forced us to share and communicate.  Each of us connected with a neighbor to get their input for the event… which my teammate McKenzie has already written about –

We had Marcelina, one of our few Hispanic neighbors[2], selling tamales that she makes. She had a statement about how her tamales are both her art form and her means of emancipation, and all the proceeds from the tamales went to supporting her family.

Ella was selling her cookies and signature Stuffed Cups, which are cupcakes with cookies baked into them (and believe me, they’re delicious).

Raul did a sculpture.  A neighbor named Franky contributed several of his amazing watercolors for us to display.  Josh created a video of Grandma Mae telling stories and talking about Third Ward.  Maggie made a window sculpture.  We had photographs of some of the inspiration graffiti around, as well as portraits of some of our neighbors.  We had written pieces, and in the center of the room, we had a large interactive table with butcher paper so that visitors to the exhibit could share what Emancipation for Third Ward means to them.

During our event, I couldn’t help but smile.  I watched as neighbors engaged with each other, conversations were happening between community activists, and people were sharing their opinions about what emancipation meant.  Maybe justice is about dreaming about a better future – sharing these dreams with others – moving forward to a more equal life for all.

 

 

Service

Our neighbor, Uncle Hosea, sits out on his porch. Almost always. This is great for us because we get to talk to him often, and on Saturdays can go there to take a break from walking… and maybe grab a quick nap?  In spending so much time on the porch, I’ve heard a fair number of stories from Uncle.  One issue he has talked about was the empty lot next his house that was overgrown – and the city hadn’t come to clear it.

One of the Mission Year values is service, so on the last weekend of May, our team participated in Green My Hood – a tangible way to serve out neighborhood.  With the help of a local tool bank, we gathered supplies to go and clear the lot.  The day was hot, but went to work – cutting a fallen tree, trimming vines, cleaning sticks & trash and mowing the lot.  Sporadically, we would take breaks with Uncle up on his porch.  At the end of the afternoon, we were able to to enjoy the view from the porch as we shared a spaghetti dinner with Uncle.

 

This was one day where service was at the front of my mind, but as I reflected, many other instances came to mind:

  • Tommy and I helping Mr. CIA with the community garden and other lawn projects.
  • Getting to walk with neighbors to their bus stops.
  • Sitting and sharing stories and time on Ms. Helen’s porch.
  • The additional tutoring for STAAR testing that Kelly, Maggie & I helped with at RYSS.
  • Neighbors and co-workers providing food/meals for us – individually and as a team

As I’ve thought about it, there have been so many ways that service has surrounded this year. And I suppose that makes sense, especially considering the words in Matthew:

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Community (4)

“Those who do not run away from our pains but touch them with compassion bring healing and new strength.  The paradox indeed is that the beginning of healing is in the solidarity with the pain.” – Henri Nouwen

Currently I’m reading Reaching Out, which is where this quote comes from.  With pretty much anything that Nouwen writes, it has me thinking tons – about myself, my community, how I (want to) live and my faith.

So, why this quote for a FMF?  I believe that all the talk and thinking about the future has somehow brought me to the realities of the present.  This community – both the neighborhood and the people I live with – are great.  Agreeing to live with “strangers” for an entire year in a city I’d never been to, there is plenty that could have gone wrong with that.

But it didn’t.  I ended up in Houston with seven amazing (and also broken) individuals.  Their amazing-ness didn’t hide the fact that each of us is broken (at least, not always).  And moments of broken-ness didn’t (doesn’t) change the beauty of each one of us.  In this space of shared beauty and broken-ness, grief and joy – a wonderful thing called community is being realized.  I say “being realized” because as long as we keep living, and being present, our community will continue to change, adapt to our life circumstances and what is happening in the world around us (both in a global and local sense).

I would never be able to understand the goodness within me without sharing the pains with those around me.  And I’m learning that vulnerability begets vulnerability begets authentic community living.

 

Neighbors, continued

Living in Third Ward Houston comes with several assumptions.  Despite some negative stereotypes about this neighborhood, I’m loving my neighbors.

The past two weekends Raul took a housemate and I around town to see some of the “hidden treasures” of Houston.  His passion for art, a city’s history and families is contagious.  I find myself wanting to know more about when groups of people came to Houston, why the neighborhoods are set up the way they are and where I can find local art. He showed us Smither Park – where local artists are creating a huge mural/mosaic wall.  We saw the first black school in Houston, as well as an old jail and one of the first Catholic churches.  He tells stories about his family freely as we travel… and I appreciate this.

Earlier in the month we had several neighbors over for dinner.  Maggie made tamales with the help of one of our Hispanic neighbors (they were delicious). Raul stopped by with his grandson before heading to the park.  One of our closer neighbors, Ms. Shirley, stopped by briefly before going with her daughter.  And Ebony (who doesn’t even live in our neighborhood anymore) was around, so she came and shared food and stories with our team.  Part of what makes this neighborhood (and our house) so great is the ability (and freedom) for people, friends, to just stop by for however long they are able.

And the great part is, we are able to stop by their houses as well!  Grandma Mae would likely yell at me if I passed by her house and didn’t say Hi.  Same with Uncle.  In fact, he has called out to us before if we don’t stop for a quick visit on our way to the bus stop.  Many hours I have spent on his porch as he shares stories about his old jobs, traveling, racing, his mule (Sam-mule) and family.  As much as I love these times, I didn’t realize the impact I (we as a team) were having.  Uncle made a comment about how much he enjoyed us stopping by and joining him on the porch.

I’m coming to realize that the everyday, seemingly trivial actions and conversations have great value.  Yes, there are “big” moments and conversations that will happen.  But there is something possibly greater in the memory and feelings of porch-sitting with a neighbor.

D!v3r$ity (3)

Let’s set the stage for this post on another Mission Year value. [also, this will be likely the beginning of a much larger conversation on a large topic]

  • The group of people I’m living with this year – we’re all White.
  • The neighborhood we live in is predominantly African-American, some Hispanic
  • The school I work at is 99% Hispanic
  • The church I attend is probably 90% (or more) African-American

The easiest diversity around me this year is racial.  And yet, diversity of almost any kind seems to be tough to discuss. Why is that? (Maybe it has to do with information we are fed through media, schooling, etc. Or maybe we tend towards what is “similar” to ourselves).

According to Mission Year – “We embrace diversity as a gift from God and build beloved community across all dividing lines.”

This is good.  But why do I value diversity?  And how does that translate into the way I live my life?

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out the answers to those questions.  But, I can share what I know/think so far.  It looks like taking time for people.  I may not know how similar or different a person is from me until I take time to talk with them.  I’m not good at doing this regularly, but the times I have stepped out, it’s been good.This year, valuing diversity means living in an area where I’m not the majority, shopping at the same places at my neighbors (rather than some place familiar), experiencing new ways to worship, reading and discussing books on a variety of topics, some by authors I may never have read, and discussing them with people who likely won’t have the same opinion as me.

Why do I value diversity?  There is beauty in other cultures.  Something intimate happens when we are invited into another person’s story.  When others choose to share their culture.  When I am vulnerable and willing to share – knowing the other may think differently, but still choosing to share because connection is important. Having multiple perspectives, unique talents, varied passions within a group of people points to a creative, powerful God.

Bringing those different people together makes the mosaic that is the body of Christ.

A mosaic.  Many pieces put together to create one, whole, piece of art.  Pieces that must be broken to fit into the bigger picture.  Pieces that have their individual beauty, but also work with other, unique pieces.

Do I always appreciate the diversity around me?  No. But I am learning to see and appreciate the differences in the people and places of Houston.  And in this pursuit of diversity and valuing people in our uniqueness, I am learning that I have something unique to offer and a lot to learn – through our shared brokenness as people.

Escape mediocrity

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This graffiti is just a few blocks down from the house where I’m living in Third Ward, Houston.  The first time I saw it, I think I said aloud “Aw, yeah!!” But the more times that i pass by this, the more it sticks with me.

Two words.  In just two words, so much is said.  Escape mediocrity.  There is a sense from some people in our neighborhood that one needs to escape Third Ward in order to have a “good” life.  This idea needs to be challenged – keep the history and culture of Third Ward alive and celebrated.  Yes, there are tough parts about our neighborhood, but the people are amazing.

Escape mediocrity.  How easy would it be just to coast by in life?  To go with the flow and do what is “expected” with your life?  These two words challenge this.  There s more to your life.  Defy expectations and go after your dreams.

Where is the challenge for you in these words?  How would you respond to the idea of escaping mediocrity in your life?

Part of Mission Year in my house has been sharing our dreams with each other  Whether this is a day, week, month, next year, sometime-in-my-life dream.  We value sharing, speaking our dreams. No life can come to unspoken dreams.  No community can be built by one person.  Dreams are meant to be collaborations. Community is designed to push one another, to help dreams be molded and come to fruition.

So, dare to dream.  And then share those dreams.  Escape mediocrity.