God at work in the park and beyond

The Outer Circle team in San Francisco focuses on the homeless population in the Haight area and Golden Gate Park. Every Monday morning, we set up a picnic in the park where we serve pancakes, oatmeal, and coffee to all of our homeless friends. On Thursday, we go to the park to hang out and catch up with our friends there. On Friday, we go to the park to worship God and pray over all the people living there.

I have met so many amazing people in my time in San Francisco. I've seen how the team operates, living in community together and proactively working to make a difference in the city. I've been touched most by the way the people in the park have such an obvious level of trust and respect for the Outer Circle team. Over the nearly 20 years the team has been here, they have come to be known for their heart of service and lack of ulterior motives, which people living in the park are wary of at every moment of their daily lives.

In my short time here in the city, I've seen God working in the lives of people who have been homeless for years. Many struggle with severe addiction, mental illness, physical ailment, and trauma. They all surely know the name of Jesus, but had not seen a physical example of the Gospel until they met the Outer Circle team.

The event that touched me the most happened a few weeks ago, on a Thursday when I was in the park with Claire, the leader of the team. We were sitting with a group of friends, and found that one man, whom I will call Brad, was in a really bad place. He had been punched in the face that morning for no good reason, and had decided to take action to obtain a gun to shoot the man who had punched him, and then shoot himself.

Claire managed to talk him into coming over to the house instead. We got ice cream and played games for a little while, then Brad took a nice long nap. He drinks a lot, and was not fully himself at the time he arrived at the house. He stayed for several days, and seeing him slowly grow more sober was a beautiful sight. He was an electrician by trade, and the basement flat was in need of electrical work. Of course he couldn't do such work while under the influence of alcohol, so not only did he sober up a bit, but he seemed so excited to do work that he was good at. He seemed so fulfilled during the time that he was able to contribute in his own way, and then spend his free time hanging out with the team living in the house.

Over the course of his time with us, we were trying to push him towards flying home to see his family. His mother even offered to buy his plane ticket, but he seemed to be wrestling with the idea. He would bring up the idea of going, and when one of us would encourage him to see it through, he would come up with all kinds of excuses why it wouldn't be a good idea.

We all knew that it would be the best thing for Brad to go home to his family. We hoped that it would be the experience he needed to inspire him to get sober. More than anything, we wanted him to see that has something to live for.

After several days staying with us and much talk of just going back to live in the park, Brad finally decided to get on the plane and go home. Our prayers had been answered.

I'm so grateful to God for having His hand on the situation. I'm so blessed to be a part of saving a friend's life and helping him take the steps he needed to get to a better situation. I keep praying for him that God will fully reveal Himself to him, and will continue to give him the motivation to keep living.

When I go home, I will be taking this experience with me, never forgetting how I saw God at work in the lives of our friends whom most of society view as write-offs, as worthless riffraff. It has become more clear to me than ever that these are the people whom Jesus Christ would be sitting, talking, and eating with were he born here in San Francisco right now instead of in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. I will continue to live and love amongst the rabble who are looking for something to live for. I hope that by God's grace I can show them what that something is.

a totally new experience

My name is Laura and I'm from Austin, Texas. I'm interning with the San Francisco Outer Circle team this summer.

I first met the Outer Circle team at the Rainbow Family Gathering in Montana in 2013. The Rainbow Family Gathering is an assembly held in a different national forest every year. It is considered a spiritual gathering, and is focused around praying for peace. Every year, thousands of people from all different walks of life and religions gather together to create a temporary utopia in the woods. They set up kitchens, run water lines, and dig latrines. Everything is shared, and no money is circulated whatsoever. Everyone contributes in some way to create harmony.

Although Rainbow is open to all people from all walks of life, I think it's safe to say that a large percentage of people who attend are homeless and travelers. Most of them could also be described as hippies, and many embrace the term. Most of the people attending either gravitate towards Buddhist or other Eastern mystic teachings, or they deny religion altogether.

There are only two Christian camps that come into Rainbow with the intention of ministering to the gathering. When I first went to Rainbow in 2013, I met up there with the Jesus Kitchen with whom I had been connected before through a friend of theirs. Camped next to them was the Outer Circle Pancake Kitchen. I met their intern for that summer and she talked to me about how great the internship was. I continued going to Rainbow every year after that and always camped with these two kitchens. This year I finally got around to applying for the internship with Outer Circle, and I had a totally new Rainbow experience.

My favorite thing I got to do this year was washing feet. I had the idea pop into my head one day, and the next day I decided to make it happen. At Rainbow, a lot of people (myself included) do not wear shoes, and most who do wear sandals. The Gathering was in Oregon this year, which is the dustiest place I have ever seen. People's feet were filthy, stinky, and some had open wounds on them. Nevertheless, I had such a rewarding experience cleaning people's feet. Most of them were so hesitant to let me wash their feet when I asked. It was as if they didn't feel they deserved for someone to perform such an act of service for them. They were so touched by the service, and I felt blessed to be able to do it.

Before, I had always been at Rainbow to kind of just watch and learn. Now, at my fifth gathering, I finally got a chance to jump in and be a part of a kitchen. I felt like I was really contributing and making a difference in ways I hadn't in previous years. Most mornings I served coffee, which was so wonderful because that's what I already do for a living and it's a passion of mine. It was awesome to be able to incorporate my existing skills into my ministry service. I made some great friends and had very intriguing conversations with them.

Every evening, the people at the Gathering all meet up in a big meadow and form a large circle. Many kitchens bring huge stock pots of food and serve the circle. Our kitchen made a point to attend the Main Circle every evening, and we always managed to meet new people. Often times we would later see the people we met at Main Circle coming to our kitchen in the morning for pancakes. After Main Circle, we would split up into pairs to perform listening prayer for anyone who wanted it. Some people were so blessed by the experience.

 

One thing that sets Outer Circle Pancake Kitchen apart from the other kitchens at Rainbow is that instead of having people line up, receive their food, and leave, we have people take a seat and wait to be served. It creates the feeling of being served in a diner. People who came to the kitchen were always so blessed by our service and interaction. We had a bucket of games and toys that made for fun and meaningful interaction with total strangers every day.

Many people liked to give back to the kitchen by helping us serve. This opened up great opportunities to have some meaningful conversations with people from all different walks of life and of faith. We were camped next to a Jewish kitchen, and many of their members came over to our kitchen to offer help setting up and serving. That was such a blessing to us, and on top of that we got to form relationships with people we might not have otherwise met.

Some members of our kitchen would perform different kinds of meditations throughout the morning. Some days it was Lectio Divina, some days Immanuel prayer, and other things like that. One new thing we had this year was a set of canvas posters with beautiful renditions of the twelve stations of the cross printed on them. I thought they were so brilliant and powerful, and I was excited listening to friend outside the kitchen talk about how the posters impacted them and really drove the message home.

This year was my favorite experience at a Rainbow Gathering so far, and I'm so excited to see what future years have in store. I can't wait to see again the new friends I made at the Gathering this year, and to hear about what they've experienced since I saw them last. I pray constantly that God will reveal himself to those wonderful people I met who do not know Him. He is so good and so faithful and I know that next time I see these friends, they will be able to tell me stories about their last year that will show me how God has been working in their lives.

Senses

My time here in Xela is drawing to a close. I have been blown away by a God who is living among the poor and teaching me, as removed from poverty as I have been my whole life, to see Him through many different things. Here are some ways I have sensed God’s presence.

What do you hear?

I hear K’iche’, the second-most spoken language in Guatemala after Spanish. My friend in the park wants to learn English and I want to learn his language, so we use Spanish as a medium to learn two very different languages. The joy on his face when he learned “have a good day” was priceless. He commutes from a far away Mayan town to offer people passing through the park a new shine for their shoes.

I hear the boom of cannons ironically in front of a church with the sign, “¡Cristo vive!” (Christ lives), as the president of Guatemala’s military day speech concludes. I am reminded of the humility and nonviolence of God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, that challenges our current world order’s acceptance of violence and death as an answer rather than the way of the cross.

I hear a voice in my head saying pray for justice. This land is scarred with unhealed wounds opened by the hands of the military being saluted on this day. There are so many differences in Xela compared to my home in America, yet both are infected with systems of power that break my heart. The poor that the team here works with are not only marginalized economically, but socially and politically too. The lasting effects of the war continue to force some Mayan communities to make the devastating choice of sending children to work in the streets or running the short term financial risk of scraping enough money for school, hoping that the education system doesn’t kick their children out for not meeting learning standards.

I hear the cries of a young girl on a bus, with her mother trying to calm her down. There is a time for everything; a time to weep and a time to laugh.

I hear hysterical laughter as the boys in the park who shine shoes for a living and I play a game. After three hits on the hacky sack, a boy snatches the ball and eliminates his friend from the game with a toss that accidentally (or not) hits his head. Thankfully, my hacky sack isn’t too hard. The simple expression of joy amidst a tough lifestyle blows me away after a day of wondering what it is like to live on the streets.

What do you see?

I see layers upon layers of mountains, tinted with the orange hue the sunset brings, disappearing into the clouds that replenish maize and beans with water. So many nations, tribes, and tongues made in God’s image, uniquely rooted in the earth to care for it. I haven’t seen this much green in my life.

I see a mother silently enter into tears during a bus ride; her son’s presence by her side, head tilted, eyes closed, steadfast. What a beautiful reminder of the mother of God and the intimacy she showed her Son when he died in His earthly body.

I see the same child turn from weeping to taking in the wind with her face peering out the bus window. It made me smile to see the change with her face towards the world, drying her tears through the power of the wind. Her eyes are closed and she seems to stay in that moment forever.

I see a mother in colorful Mayan dress embracing her daughter in contemporary clothes. She stopped by our afternoon tutoring that day to thank the team for teaching and walking with her daughter. The fortitude of this people for what they have endured in a country bent on leaving them behind is incredible to me. This image of embrace, showing the pressures of urbanization that Indigenous peoples face around the world, brings my heart joy.

What do you smell?

I smell incense during prayer with the team. Contemplative prayer has been a great new way to communicate to God through silence. This team models what it means to live in the kingdom of God now, in the present through a posture of tranquility. I am blessed to commune with these sons and daughters of Christ.

I smell aromas of meat, recently harvested maize, and a never ending array of fresh fruit. Seeing the women who bring their family’s crops to the city to sell day in and out is inspiring and sad at the same time. I have learned so much from the Mayan cosmovision of solidarity and sustainability that leads to a care for the earth.

I smell fresh pan (bread) being served after tutoring in the afternoon. It is the first meal of the day for some of the children. I find assurance in Jesus’s identical suffering in hunger during His temptation in the wilderness. I serve a God that not only identifies with the poor, but prefers them and desires His people to join with them in fellowship, in the breaking bread together as one body.

What do you taste?

I taste fresh peppers sizzling on my tongue. Beef soup with rice, cilantro, fresh avocado, salsa, and fresh lime was one of my favorite meals for lunch. I am blessed by the hospitality of my host family. Going from fresh local Guatemalan food to Saga will be interesting.

I taste tamales at the wedding reception of a member on the team. Sharing meals together is a lost art in my context. Life done together here includes the eating, the talking, the Wednesday night times of prayer and Bible reading, and the joining together in communion of Guatemalans and me, the American with Spanish skills that are “improving”.

I taste the many different salsas at a salsa bar. I used to not be into spicy food at all when I was younger. Somewhere along the way, my taste buds decided to take a leap, and now I am enjoying the peaks and explosions that peppers and jalapeños give me.

What do you feel?

I feel like sneezing. Woodchips and sawdust fly through the air as I watch my friend work all day in the carpinteria (woodshop). He commutes from a Mayan village everyday to continue learning the trade of woodworking. We talked for a while on a long walk to and from the supermarket. We both agreed that the simple job that provides and the simple life are enough for us. We are close in age, yet far in location, which makes a combination of growing through life together in separate lives.

I feel exhausted after playing soccer with some of the boys that InnerCHANGE knows and hangs out with. Great reminder of how out of shape I am, and still it was one of the most fun memories I’ve had.

I feel helpless. After hearing the stories of unaccompanied youth caught migrating to the States, I finally see a part of the larger picture of economic desperation. Families that often give their children their blessing to provide at a young age through finding work in the US are heartbroken when they receive a call that their child has been deported and is here for pickup. All I could do is sit there in the transition center and listen to them. Their dreams of coming to my country have been crushed, and here I am showing them my freedom to come to their country without fear for my life or my future. I can’t even bear thinking about how far a semester of tuition I pay would go to provide for these boys’ families basic needs. God, where are you? Where is your church in all of this?

You are here. I feel you here. Sometimes in the quiet. Sometimes in the loud bustling streets. I know you are working among the people here God.

I feel at peace. It is ok to not have answers. We were not made to know everything and feel all our globalized age offers us. There is so much more I have learned, and still things I have not learned in my time here. Through it all, it has been one of the biggest blessings of my life.

The Diamond

Hi, my name is Josh and I am serving at the San Antonio location this summer along with Paul.  So far it has been a rewarding experience.  Paul and I are staying in an apartment next to the leaders and we have named our place "the diamond" and that is what the kids in the neighborhood are now calling it.  

I help with several different aspects of the ministry.  I have skills in construction so I help a lot with the restoration of The Rec; an old building that the ministry purchased and has been slowly restoring over the past two years.  It has been challenging given the shape of the building "but many hands make light work" and it has been such an honor and humbling experience to watch so many come together to make this building the heart beat of this ministry.  

I am also involved with the photography club that meets in The Rec twice a week.  One of the teachers from the local elementary school started this club after school and decided to carry it through the summer.  Aside from learning about photography, I walk the neighbor with the kids as they take pictures.  The theme for the summer is "what does love look like in our neighborhood"  I have been very surprised and touched by all the love and beauty they see in this neighborhood.  

But my favorite part about the internship has been just doing life with the neighborhood.  Whether it is helping someone jump their car, installing a window unit or taking a bunch of kids to Sonic for a drink there is truly a feeling of "we" between the ministry and the neighborhood.  At any given hour we find kids or adults knocking on the door to say hi, ask for help, or just to hang out.  God is definitely doing His work among this little corner of the world.

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Presence

It has been almost three weeks since I have arrived in Xela, and I am understanding more about the people that so beautifully live and work in this city in the highlands of Guatemala. There is so much that I have experienced already, but to keep it brief, I will tell you one reflection of mine that will forever impact how I approach ministry.

As I was preparing for my time working with the marginalized of Xela, a recurring question mark for me was “so, what exactly am I doing there?” I knew that I would be working with an existing team full of experience and stories to share. But I had a hard time understanding what some of the things that InnerCHANGE Xela did in their identity as an incarnational presence among the poor.

During my first mentoring session with a team leader, I started to realize the problem with my expectations of “doing work” or thinking about ministry as various actions that I do with others. After I was asked how I was feeling after a full week in Xela, I mentioned that being a foreigner and coming to a new context was exciting yet difficult. I had found a deep appreciation for the people and culture of Xela, but it was hard to solely think of this place as sugar-coated with growth, life, and celebration: as with every city in the world, there is a dark underbelly of violence and poverty that is left unexposed until you dig deep enough. I had questions about my relationships to these things that I was learning about through the past few weeks of ministry.

One result of Xela’s complex economy is the prevalence of child labor: in my time here, I have seen part of a system that keeps boys shining shoes instead of going to school from a young age and compels families to send youth to the states as undocumented workers to provide for their loved ones. In addition, education for some is difficult to obtain, as the financial costs that school unfortunately brings to certain families bears a heavy burden (hidden costs such as school supplies, uniforms, etc.). Further, the time spent at school is time not providing for one’s family, a sad reality of limited options that marginalized families in Xela live every day.

In addition, my visit with part of the team to Casa Nuestras Raíces (House of our roots) was difficult to soak in. The building is a temporary home for unaccompanied youth that have recently been caught entering the States, deported immediately, and sent by bus to a place where their parents will soon pick them up. Ultimately, my question was this: In light of this system of poverty that keeps children on the streets or searching for work at a young age, why am I here if I cannot help? Since this ministry is far removed from the context from which I was raised, why am I here?

With understanding eyes and listening ears, my mentor heard all my reflections and thoughts about how I have been, patiently hearing my specific question of what I am here to do. After my processing came to a close, he simply affirmed me and told me that I am already doing work. With caring words, he explained to me that by sitting with the boys in the park, and by saying nothing and feeling the pain of the youth who just had their American dream crushed, I was doing the work of Christ. In his time here, he has noticed ministries or foreign social organizations coming to Xela with well intended desires: to build, create, and manifest new

opportunities. These desires were passionate, but often missed the element of presence that Jesus perfectly modeled. From his whole life experience in this city, he has again and again seen these startups leave after staying for a short period of time for a number of reasons. The reality is that there are not a lot of people who come and simply want to spend consistent time with the people that InnerCHANGE hangs out with. I was encouraged to just be in the community, and hang out with the shoeshine boys and youth at Casa Nuestras Raíces. Something as simple as my presence will go a long way and communicate the love of Christ. In the same way, my mentor encouraged me to slowly build relationships, not in any rush to accomplish “things”, as trust takes a long time to build. My job was simply to listen, learn, and spend time with the people that have been here their whole lives.

The next day, during the typical late afternoon Xela rain, some shoeshine boys and I were waiting the weather out under the government building in the park. I asked one of the boys if he spoke K’iche, one of the many Mayan languages in Guatemala, and proceeded to learn a few words in K’iche from my friend Jorge. It really is a beautiful language filled with intricacies and simplicity that sadly is replaced by Spanish in Xela as the “prominent” language. As I taught him some sayings in english in exchange, a smile crossed both of our faces as we uncovered the beauty of learning from another. I realized then that my presence and my smiling face was enough. The next day, I was almost brought to tears as another boy prayed the Lord’s prayer during our team’s weekly prayer meeting for InnerCHANGE missionaries around the world.

Indescribable Joy

Indescribable Joy

Hello friends, my name is Paul Cooper!  For forty days during this summer internship, I have the wonderful opportunity to work with a nonprofit organization called San Antonio Heals in San Antonio, TX.  

SA Heals focuses on sharing Christ's love in a very specific context seeking to bring about change in their neighborhood:  one kid at a time, one family at a time.

This summer I have the privilege to mentor four boys.  They range from 11-13 years of age.  I have worked with them before as their basketball coach.  They will be the first four students in a new school that SA Heals will begin in the fall.  My task is simple: to continue to build relationships with the boys.

Throughout the summer we will have informal meetings that take place for a couple of hours twice a week.  We meet and make lunch together and seek to understand each other's worldview and perspective on a variety of topics.  It has come to no surprise that I have learned as much from them as they have from me.

They complain about doing silly activities at times, but once we begin they jump right in and provide and abundance of energy.  This is not only a great opportunity for us to learn more about each other, but also provides a safe environment for the kids to have fun and make their summer less "boring".

In an effort to keep their minds sharp, we go to the library and the kids spend time reading as much as we can.  I thought they would hate that, but I was pleasantly surprised when they were upset when I told them we had to leave and do something else.  These boys never cease to amaze me.  They are full of potential and watching and helping them discover their passions and abilities brings me indescribable joy

CCDA LA

Will you be at CCDA in LA this year?  We'll have a booth, come find us!

Also, be sure to check out InnerCHANGE Los Angeles team member Dr. Jude Tiersma-Watson's workshop on Friday at 3:15.  She's presenting a workshop along with Cynthia Eriksson titled 'Trauma, God, and So Many Questions'.  You'll find them at the Santa Anita A room.