Class Journal #1 Fuller at Skid Row

June 28 2004
Urban Mission Models Class Journal #1

I was struck the very beginning of the class by one small statement read aloud and set the momentum for the whole day.  This phrase was read from what I judged to be a clichéd filled poem called, an Urban Psalm 23.  “They never look in my eyes…” were the words spoken with ease and brevity, but struck me with the force of awakening clarity, as though be splashed with a bucket of cold water.  These words uttered in prose, spoken through the mouths of many underprivileged, homeless and vagabonds grabbed me because it was not a week ago that I came to the realization, “If I don’t look at them or make eye contact, they don’t beg for money from me.”  Though I consider myself an advocate for the poor, I concluded that dropping a few coins into a battered Styrofoam cup would make little to no difference for my recipient of good works.

I have often said with the frustrations of irritation as well hopelessness, “Don’t they realize that if I gave money to every single person who asked of me I would be sitting right alongside them?”  My less then Christ-like attitude has caused me to be paralyzed and unable to help those who are in need.  The small voice of the homeless women I see on my way to my favorite coffee shop, quietly mumbles, “They never look in my eyes…”  In the process of seeking to be a “wise steward” of my money I have neglected more base needs of humanity.  Though I may not be able to always offer money to those who seek it, I can offer them the freedom and joy of being treated as a human in acknowledging their presence, a smile, an intentional look into their eyes, or a even a pleasant word or two.  This morning devotion broke way in my heart and declared that I oppress other when I deny them the joy of being treated as a fully human and divinely-created being.

This morning devotion of treating people as people set the stage for the day’s themes such as Andy Bale’s importance of stories and advocacy, Jill Shook’s Mobilizing, Organizing, and Theology of Location and Rudy’s redistribution, relocation, and reconciliation.  Each place we were at brought up somewhat different, somewhat interrelated themes but all revolved coherently around a desire to give poor people the opportunity to become fully human, as exemplified in Christ. 

The most impressive part about our time with Andy Bale was how much he was apart of the lives of those he serves.  He told us of how recently he got in a lot of trouble with the Pasadena councilman because he and others from the church were feeding and giving drinks to the day laborers and another time where an angry neighbor pulled a gun on some day laborers and threatened to kill them for being by his house.  Andy had to step up and call the chief police commissioner to request that the officer who handled the case actually follow the law and arrest the wealthy man who pulled the hand gun on the Mexicans.  Finally the Officer returned and arrested the man, but it took the advocacy of a white pastor of a very rich church to make sure that the law was followed. 

What stood out most about the day labor center was actually meeting the people, learning names and trying to talk with them across language barriers.  I really enjoyed the little time I had with learning that even illegal immigrants are truly humans, with needs, feelings and fears just like the rest of us.  By being there, their problems seemed much more relevant to me than before, all of a sudden I found myself really caring about day labor and immigration laws.  The migrant workers become human to me in that small building, as we ate tamales together talking about the life we share.

Finally Rudy, the director at Harambee, impressed me the most.  I was so impressed with him because unlike Andy and Jill at the other two centers, Rudy was not doing ministry for those around him, he was doing it with them.  Rudy is so ingrained in the neighborhood where he has lived and practiced ministry for 17 years that the problems of the Harambee center and the people of the neighborhood were truly his own.  Like he said, it is not as if he knew the community, he is the community.  In becoming a part of the people he served he had a very clear testimony to his validating the humanity of those whose humanity is in question. Everything that happed today supported this ongoing theme, those who follow Christ seek to allow their fellow human being the opportunity to experience a fuller/truer humanity.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.