This blog post is several very short stories that have all happened in the last three days and have all shared a common thread. Hopefully I'll post an expanded version of each of these stories in the next few weeks but for now enjoy this!
This afternoon after church we took several cars full of students and youth staff down the street to Ocean Beach to distribute backpacks and blankets that the Mid High and Sr High group spent November donating. In addition to handing out backpacks they were also inviting anyone they interacted with to come and share a meal with us on the lawn by Tower 2 in OB. While they were out meeting people I was cooking up lunch for everyone with my awesome roommate Will who dropped what he was doing to come help me cook 100+ servings of food because I couldn't do it on my own.
After everyone had been served I got to sit with a man named Derek and hear his story. He used to own a farm in Tennessee. 7 years ago when the recession hit he lost his land and started "traveling professionally." He started drinking so heavily that it consumed his life. He hit rock bottom a few years ago. He told me, "I had always had enough, had always been able to rely on my own strength. At that point I knew I needed God. I couldn't do it alone. Now, I will always find a church everywhere I go. My life has changed a lot but God is the same." Derek stood out to me because he knew he needed God. What if we all lived with the same recognition of our need for a church to be connected to because of the God that is at the center of the church?
This morning in church we awarded the "Marge Fisher: Faith in Action" plaque to Rich and Reitha Skiles during both services. The award exists as a way for the youth of our church to honor Sr Adults for the ways they've served the community. Rich and Reitha are two people that have served our church for decades and have given their whole selves to it. We asked them to respond to the question: why is the church important to you? Rich spoke up and brought goosebumps to everyone in the room, "we've been here a long time, spent our whole lives in church. Some of you have too but we're the oldest. After a lot of years, church is a different kind of place now than it was years ago for everyone. But what's important is that church may be different but our God is the same." I love that we live in a community where generations honor each other. Rich and Reitha teach me more about what it means to serve the kingdom with my life for as long as I live. They teach me about the importance of showing up and being faithful to a body of believers. They remind me that we need each other to live in community.
Saturday morning I got to help a few students and AJ, Tavis, and Dakota make 25 pounds of fudge as a thank-you gift for the youth staff who give. They give so much. Time. Resources. Heart space. Emotion. All for free. All to serve the kingdom and seek to build relationships with middle school and high school students that will point them towards God. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to display. I dreamt of making beautiful pans of fudge with lightly sprinkled candy-cane powder as topping. The beautiful thing about saying yes to middle schoolers and giving them the spatula is that you get to say yes to their imaginations, their humor, and the ways they want to decorate the fudge. I laughed internally and externally as the fudge was slathered and then eventually adorned with a "fudgey the snowman" character to top it off. It was beautiful. They were excited out of their minds (and a little sugar-high from eating chocolate chips) and they knew their role was significant in thanking people they love a lot. It was a morning that was full of the kingdom.
Friday night we had the Roots of Giving Fair at PLNU. Its a fair-trade and homemade craft fair put on by the Center for Justice and Reconciliation. I worked our church's booth with AJ, Tavis, and a few teens. We were selling beaded jewelry made by the Ndengera Foundation in Gisenyi, Rwanda, a foundation committed to providing healthcare, education, food, and shelter to over 800 children and women that are victims of HIV-AIDS. I was reminded Friday night that we don't always need years of experience or degrees to be part of justice. Sometimes just saying "yes" to middle schoolers is enough for them to jump in and engage in the narrative of Christ. As soon as Jordan and Trey showed up they asked how they could help. "You can run the booth!" I said. I gave them a brief explanation of what the Ndengera Foundation existed to do and then put them in charge. In between customers we talked, laughed, played Kendama, and put together a working definition of social justice. We decided to define it as: "seeing everything that's bad, everything that hurts people in this world, and trying to fill all of those situations with as much of Christ's love as possible."
Halfway through the night they were thriving so much in their role as Justice-advocates that they started introducing themselves to potential customers saying, "Hi! We are Jordan and Trey and we work to build Social Justice in this world and we are with The Naz Youth Group." They were in. They had engaged in a narrative of Justice. A narrative that seeks to fill the most difficult things in the world with as much of the redemptive love of Christ as possible.
Justice is love. Justice is knowing our need for God. Justice is honoring one another because of the work God has done and remembering that God is constant. Justice is sharing a meal with strangers. Justice is saying yes to fudgey the snowman and giving teens a chance to reciprocate love. Justice is knowing that everyone has a seat at the table and a voice that matters. Justice is knowing that 11 year-olds can dive in and be justice-advocates because they are passionate and they were created for it. Justice is bringing the love of Christ into all the situations that are imperfect in the world.
Above all, I'm reminded this weekend that there isn't much that separates us. We may be different ages, or come from different places. But we are really similar. God is constant. Let's stoke the fires of justice together.