Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Marcela and the Tunnel [Sarah R., Urban Neighbor alum]

[Sarah, an 2005-06 Urban Neighbor alum, is currently working with street kids in Chihuahua, Mexico.]

Her name is Marcela or Marcelita. She is 14 years old. She lives in an underground tunnel on the streets of Chihuahua with her 15 year old husband Nacho. I do not know her face, but I know her cry. As I walk in the dirty smelly streets I come across her home: the tunnel.

Dark and long, she lives all the way in the back where the light cannot reach. She cries as Nacho beats her. He comes out. We are there to feed them. She is still crying. I take a plate and walk into the tunnel. I hear her crying. I am hunched over as the tunnel is about 3 feet high. I walk and walk and walk. I can no longer see the hand in front of my face. Who knows if there are rats on the ground. The darkness is so thick and I am so scared. But she is still crying. I tell her I am here to give her food and she need not be afraid. I continue to walk, how long is this freaking tunnel? I am so afraid as the darkness seems to enter my soul and envelopes me into its greatness. I stop for a second and just sit there afraid.

This intimate moment with Marcelita is powerful. I have entered into her darkness. I can see a small light behind me where I came from and I cannot walk any further. I am too afraid and she stops crying and she is too far back there and Moi (my leader at the home) tells me to come back. Nacho is happy and smiling. I only want to beat the living day lights out of him, but I pray God shows me how to love him (my enemy). Moi says there is nothing we can do but pray as the Mexican government is not like the US. They do not go and stop domestic abuse. She is addicted to her drugs and the abuse and she does not want to leave. He says all we can do is pray and God does answer those who cry out to him. I am praying for her and by faith I know God will rescue her. This is why I am here. To sit along side Marcela and tell her she is loved and I am here to listen to her story and am here to be her friend and help her beat her addiction and know real love...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Birthday Blessings [Leah, south Minneapolis]

I never knew what a simple game of kickball would bring about...

One day as I got home from work our neighbors below were grilling out. We organized a little game of kickball and made everyone line up according to who had the closest birthday. As the kids told me their birthdays, Sha'Liece ended up having the closest birthday- May 20.. This happens to also be my birthday. As she found out that we shared the same birthday, her face instantly lit up. In our four plex there are 3 other families all with younger kids. This particular family had just moved in 2 months ago. I work at an Elementary school, and some days I come home from school absolutely exhausted, wanting just to take a LONG nap. Yet, these kids continually want to play "ships across the ocean", freeze tag", "kickball", or whatever other game they come up with.

Everyday after that glorious game of kickball Sha'Liece would let me know that there were "22 days until our birthday", 17 days until our birthday", "7 days until our birthday." She reminded me of the anticipation we have as children of these events in our lives.
I decided to organize a little party for this girl who was soon to be 7. I talked it over with her Mom, and made sure all of the girls would be able to come. I sent an e-mail to a group of friends telling them to bring games, books, and toys for Sha'Liece and her 3 sisters. I bought a pinata and was looking forward to celebrating with this family and having friends get to know them. Well, the big day rolled around and I didn't hear much activity in the home below. This was quite surprising since music/yelling are typically constant in their house.I knocked on the door and found out Sha'Liece was gone and wouldn't be home until alter on in the evening. Friends were coming over at 1 o'clock. People ended up arriving with all kinds of gifts-books, hula hoops, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, coloring books and more. I felt so grateful for the outpouring of love by the community of friends I have. Yet, I was feeling bummed out that I thought the family below and I had clearly communicated about the party.

My friends came and went, still with no Sha'Liece and her sisters, to break open the pinata with. Later that night I got home form a family celebration and the girls came up and knocked on the door. My roommate Krista and I had all the girls up, as well as their uncle and Sha'Liece got to open her presents. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. She had gotten some money earlier in the day from a relative for her birthday. She told me a family member had already taken the money to buy gas. These were the only gifts she got. I had my apprehensions of what it would look like for a bunch of my friends to get her gifts, but it ended up being a truly beautiful moment.

The next day all of the kids in the four-plex were outside playing. It was a gorgeous day. I told the kids that when my roommates Krista & Marissa got home from work we could open the pinata. Some of the adults in the building came out as well. We had such a great time. People ranging in age from 2-50 were taking turns at the pinata, laughing and uniting over a 7 year olds birthday. There have been many experiences this year that have struck me- some bringing deep pain, and some bringing immense amounts of joy. Monday was such a beautiful day of celebration and joy on our little corner in the central neighborhood of South Minneapolis.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Just Let Me Give

Reflections from the weekend "Fast from the Middle Class"


            I met a black man, or rather he met me when he invited me out of my chair to meet his friend, a staff worker.  He was homeless with only a white t-shirt and basket ball shorts to cover his back.  Fastened around his waist he wore a black back-support, the kind stockers wear at the grocery store.

            He said he wanted to talk to me because of the clearness of my eyes and a countenance about me he had not seen in a long time.  This is one of many reminders I received that weekend that it is impossible for me to cover up my blessed background and stable life situation.  Right now, it is just who I am and so deeply ingrained that I cannot simply turn it off, and I do not need to.

            His structure was two of me.  His eyes were the color of coffee.  He had picked out a tan trench coat from the tables downstairs before breakfast trying to hide his shoulders which hung like leaves off his trunk-like body.  Occasional lone tears slipped from his eyes as he shared his story.  What could make a forty-two year old black man cry freely in front of a five-foot-four, twenty-six year old white woman., especially one who did not trust white people until he left the south and moved north.

            "For six days I have not eaten.  I have given up, and I have been drunk and stoned under that bridge over there.  I am tired; not just today, but of life.  I dreamt for those six days of killing myself and ending it all.  I am tired of fighting, really fighting.  I do not know what brought me here today for breakfast.  The food in my stomach is so foreign to my body that it is being rejected.  I feel like throwing it up.  I am not even sure I want to make it through today."  All I could do was listen.  He wanted no answers, just question.

            "Do you know where I have been?"

            "No, I have no idea," I said.

            "I am from a nice family.  My mom prays for me every day.  There is a family in the suburbs who takes care of me.  I cannot keep taking from them.  I cannot keep receiving their charity."

            "Why not?"

            "I do not deserve it.  I have done nothing to help them in return.  I have nothing to give back.  They do not ask anything of me, but how can I keep receiving that?  My mom still prays for me every day, but you know what really struck me that she said," he asked.

            "No, I don't."

            "'I pray for you every day,' she tells me, 'but when will you start praying for you,' she asked me.  I had no answer.  I know God's love is sufficient for me.  I know his grace is complete.  I have read the Bible over and over again.  I know what it says; I know what it teachers.  I can repeat it back to you.  I have lost my Bible three times and it always comes back to me, somehow.  I know God loves me."

            "Can God be trusted," I asked him.


            "Why can you not trust him with yourself.  You do not have to be clean.  That is God's job.  You do not have to be worthy because none of us are worthy.  Jesus came for people like you who see your dirtiness and need for a savior.  Trust Him with yourself since you know He, alone, is enough."

            "I cannot do that.  I am too dirty.  I cannot let that go.  Did you know I have been in jail?  I have been in prison for years.  I have seen so much death; more than anyone should see in a lifetime.  I cannot stand it anymore!  I am so broken and full of junk!  Did you know that I have not been hugged, truly and honestly in years.  I have sold my body to men and women alike for drugs, but nobody has hugged me.  Do you know what I really want?"

            "No, what do you want?"

            "I want to be really held.  I want to feel love again.  I want someone to wrap their arms around me.  Is that so hard?"

            "I don't know.  I really don't," I responded.

            "Do you know what I want to be," he asked me.

            "A preacher?"

            "Yeah," he laughs.  "I want to be a preacher.  I want to tell people about God.  I want to teach them the truth!  I am an artist, too.  Did you know that?"

            "No, I did not.  Do you know what I see in you," I asked him.  "I see a man being chased after and sought by God.  You have the truth.  You just need to trust it.  You lost your Bible and God keeps bringing it back to you to remind you of Himself.  I believe God is in you and working.  He is the one that makes you worth anything, only him, not yourself."
            "You really think so?"

            "Yes, I do.  It's like this.  Think of a piece of art.  This piece of art does not search for the artist, right?  It is a creation of a creator.  We are the art.  God created us, but we cannot seek him.  We are his creation.  He must reveal himself to us.  So, the fact that you know he exists and understand so many of these truths are evidence that He has revealed Himself to you.  Otherwise you would not know he existed.  He loves you!  He is hanging on to you and is not letting go.  When are you going to hang on to him?"

            "It seems so simple, but I just don't think I can do it.  I wish it was that simple."

            "I know."

            "Did you know I have HIV?  I have told everyone I have been intimate with.  Some appreciated it and others were angry with me.  I did not do it on purpose?  How can they be mad at me?  I would not have been intimate with them if I had known.  How can they say it is my fault?  Some now recoil at my presence and nobody touches me anymore even though that is not how you get it."

            "They are just ignorant."

            "I wish I could give.  Nobody lets me give anymore.  Everyone gives to the homeless, but nobody ever lets me give back to them.  I have so much to give!  But, nobody lets the homeless give from who they are.  They have taken our identity and made us feel useless by not letting us share who we are.  I just want to give of who I am and what I have.  Someday I am going to write a book, a bibliography of my life."

            "I hope you do because I think you have a lot to give," I said.

            This man would have kept my ear all day.  I thanked him for "giving" me his story and encouraged him to give it to other people.  There was nothing else to say.  I prayed all day that he would make it through today, tomorrow, next week and continue to see the truth, eventually being relieved from his despair.  I shook his hand as I left.  I knew I could not hug him, but I wanted to leave him with one good, honest touch.  He never once asked me for anything but my ear to listen.  That is all he wanted, a chance to give.  The desire for love, identity and a chance to give is what makes a large black man cry in front of a girl.  He knew life was too short to hold back.

We don't love by chance; rather, we make room for the ones we choose to love.

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