Category Archives: values

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.

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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.

 

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.

Neighbors (2)

Confession.

I rarely want to go out into our neighborhood on Saturdays.

Don’t get me wrong.  Spending time in 3rd Ward, learning the places, meeting people and spending time with our neighbors is something that I value.  It is something that Mission Year values.  And honestly, there are great people and a rich history in this neighborhood.  But, it seems I lack motivation… almost every Saturday.  After a week of work, training and curriculum, the thought of investing doesn’t sound as enticing as a nap or some chill time.  Thankfully, the time is built into my schedule, and my teammates (housemates?) help get me out the door.

This past Saturday, God gave me a glimpse of how awesome He is… and how he places people together for times and seasons.  Tommy and I went to help a neighbor – Mr. CIA – with some lawn work.  He wasn’t around, which has happened before.  This frustrates me, but I try and remind myself of African time to make things “better” for my mind.  We walked around some more, stopping by a few other neighbors and discussing the week, before deciding to walk back by Mr. CIA’s house and lot.

This time we connected with him.  And so, for the next thresh hours, we joined him in some yard work.  The few times I’ve been able to exert myself this year, I’ve realized that I enjoy it, especially when I’m at a desk most of the time.  Did I get some blisters from raking?  Yes.  Does my back hurt some as I type this?  Yes.  But did Tommy and I get to meet a neighbor where he was, sharing in both work and conversation? Ye.  And there is something beautiful in that.  Mr. CIA wanted to barbecue for us, but nee to get some more work done as we headed home to eat with our house and fix his rake, but we said we’d be back that evening with the rake.

Fast forward to post-dinner.  We head back to his area of the neighborhood.  His grill is already smoking and a couple of his friends are chatting with him.  We come and sit in on their conversations, pulling up a crate and a bucket, which seem like obvious chairs.  Harold recently got out of prison after being there for thirty-six years.  My mind can’t comprehend that he lived in prison before I was even born…. And he has such a positive attitude.  He willing shared parts of his story, encouraging us not to get in trouble, showing his prison ID and talking about how tough life can be.  But sitting around the fire, smoking a feast of meat, he took us back to his childhood.  He remembers his mom singing songs as the cooked in their backyard – but even then it felt like he and his family had escaped the city and were “free” in a forest.  He started singing his favorite hymn… and I quickly was transported out of 3rd Ward… back to a time when families and friends gathered around fires and food, sharing stories and songs, enjoying just being and able to see the stars and wonder.

None of the afternoon or evening was expected.  I can only thank God for sharing these people, these place, these moments.

Church Partnership (1)

“Good morning family! Hug three people and tell ’em that you’re glad they made it to church today!”

This is a typical greeting at my church.  From the moment you walk in, there is a feeling of family and community.  This church “gets it” when it comes to making one feel welcome.

How grateful I am to be partnered with a church that cares so well for people.  As the first of the eight values, church partnership may seem simple.  But how valuable going to St John’s weekly proves to be.  During the year, my teammates and I are pouring into each other, the neighborhood and our work sites.  We challenge stereotypes and our own thoughts, actions and beliefs on a regular basis.  The need for a welcoming place to be filled, renewed and challenged is incalculable.

What do I love about my church?

  • Musicians with soul.  Seriously, amazingly talented and humbly leading the rest of the church to come before our God.
  • Passionate pastors.  The church is big, there are several pastors, and each one of them is incredibly passionate – about prayer, God, the people inside and outside of our church, justice and LOVE.
  • Holistic.  Our church looks to live out love and justice – whether building housing for those experiencing homelessness or a ministry for those in jail or providing opportunities for health check ups – St John’s understands its not just about the spiritual.
  • Freedom.  You can be you.  Doctors and teachers and people experiencing homelessness and single parents and those who identify as LGBTQ – all are sitting together – worshiping, loving and being loved.
  • And maybe this is obvious at this point, but community.  Within the walls, and outside, community is important.

This may have been disjointed, but that’s how my mind works sometimes.  St John’s (and my house community) take me where I am.  I am part of this body in Houston. The church, the body of Christ, here in Houston, is moving.

Support

In the hustle and bustle of summer, I realized recently that I never updated this blog with more information about Mission Year. Here is some background about the why I’m doing a volunteer year and what I’ll be doing!

This upcoming year I will be embarking on a new journey. Starting in September I begin a volunteer year with Mission Year. The vision of Mission Year is to see, inspire, and join in with a movement of people committed to loving God and loving people in neighborhoods across the country. Their purpose is to develop lifelong disciples, leaders, and advocates who will transform the church, the city, and the world. Their vision is to see the church unified, cultures reconciled, neighborhoods revitalized, and the world redeemed.

Living in Minneapolis, MN for the past year and a half made me more aware of the disunity in communities and churches. Why was my predominantly white church right in the middle of a neighborhood with very few white households? How do I make sense of situations like Ferguson, MO when I am a suburban white male? Seeing the news and having conversations with coworkers and friends made me realize that wanting to see and invest in change was important to me.

That’s where Mission Year comes in. For one year I will be living with 7 other young adults in Houston, TX. Our lives will look different as we live in an under-resourced neighborhood. We will strive to become part of the community, to understand our neighbors and the neighborhood we live in. Our “jobs” will be volunteering at local organizations that are working towards righting the injustices and coming alongside people in need within our community. We will read and discuss books to help us understand poverty, homelessness, and racial issues. We will see what Jesus says about these issues, and challenge each other to live out His love and justice.

The past several years have taught me that I root for the underdog. My favorite color is orange and at VBS I find the kids in the back to befriend. As I listen, read or watch the news, the brokenness in our nation, communities, and churches becomes more evident to me. The more I read the Bible, the more I want to dive into a more diverse life and community. In Amos it says, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I want to be part of bringing justice, love, hope and righteousness to people and communities. My hope is that Mission Year will be the hands-on learning for a year that will be grow myself and propel me forward, continuing to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

In order for Mission Year to thrive, I am asking you to support the ministry that will happen as I live, love and serve in Houston. My goal for the year is $10,000. Would you consider supporting me with a monthly or one-time gift? You can donate online at http://missionyear.thankyou4caring.org/kevinzimmerman. Additionally, I would love to have you praying for me, my team, and the people and community of Houston, as I prepare to move there in September.