Right outside the Raleigh Youth Mission office is Nash Square. It is a green space full of trees nestled in downtown Raleigh.
On January 6, 2021 America watched as a crowd of thousands of people participated in a protest that turned into a riot. That riot included storming the nation’s Capitol building while our elected leaders were still there, working to fulfill their duties to the constitution and to the people that elected them.
Most of us have heard the saying: “Never talk about Religion or Politics…” However, I am learning that if we never talk about religion or politics then we will never get to the root causes of our deepest suffering, and we will fail to be the people we were created by God to be. Now, I don’t mean to imply that religion or politics are the root issues that cause us pain, rather it is the idea that there are “some things” that we should not discuss.
In his book turned motion picture Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson recalls how his grandmother used to tell him all the time, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance… You have to get close.” Bryan took this message to heart; his experience in law school interning with a non-profit working with inmates on death row propelled him into a career of advocacy.
You have to get close.
Though I have lived in Asheville since 2002, I am in my second year as the Mission Immersion Director at AYM. Recently I have been thinking a lot about why groups should come to Asheville for a mission experience. In other words, why AYM? Yes, you may know Asheville is a destination city with lots of great hikes, waterfalls as well as great food & music venues. AYM is located right downtown at First Presbyterian Church, and who doesn’t love getting candy at Mast General?! Over the past dozen years we have established relationships with many non-profit partners who are doing great work in the community.
This summer I have been able to work at many agencies across Memphis. One of my favorites is The Manna House. People in the community can go in the morning to the Manna house and drink coffee, play board games, and maybe take showers or get a new pair of socks. The youth get to connect with people who have lived lives very different than us. Two people I had the pleasure of meeting were Paul and Otis*.
My favorite passage to use during Bible study with my students is Matthew 20: 1-16, The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. To put it simply, this passage compares the Kingdom (or as I like to think of it, Ecosystem) of Heaven to a landowner and his workers. Early in the morning, the landowner hires several daily workers who agree to the usual daily pay. Then the landowner hires more workers at mid-day, and even more towards the end of the day. When it is time to be paid, the full-day workers are disappointed upon realizing that all workers were paid the same amount. The landowner’s response to their distress at the unfair nature of his payment scale is that he did not short the full day workers of the money they were promised and that he is allowed to do what he wishes with his money.
The theme for YMCo this summer is “Worlds Apart”. At the beginning of the week we try to explain this theme by taking the youth on an urban walk around the city of Raleigh. We show the youth the different communities that exist right across the street from each other but are “Worlds Apart”. On one street there is a soup kitchen and on the next there are high priced restaurants. There are bus stops and parking garages. There are homes and there are park benches.
This theme was especially impactful for me, a Raleigh native. Though educational and eye opening for the youth–even more for me as I learned about agencies and communities that existed across the street or across town from me that I was now just learning about. “Worlds Apart” couldn’t be more real. I enjoyed learning more about my city, but also felt guilty that parts of the city were so foreign to me.
On my first night of training for this job, the other interns and I sat awkwardly around a table eating spaghetti as our Executive Director, Bill Buchanan, said something that would stay imprinted in my brain for the rest of the summer. “This is kingdom of God stuff, y’all” he said with sincerity, while the other interns and I pondered what that really meant. Fast forward to my second summer as an AYM intern, I can say with absolute certainty that the people I’ve met and the agencies I’ve worked with are truly part of that “kingdom of God stuff”.
At the beginning of the summer if you had asked me what I imagined God’s kingdom looked like, I would have told you something that was truly perfect and profound, something that was flawless and impeccable. Surprisingly, I still agree with that statement, but now an explanation is required along with it.
“10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’
If you’ve ever hung around me or my family, you would realize we have no problem talking. The conversation at our dinner table runs at a pace fast enough to scare a stenographer away and my friends often ask me to “repeat that” or “sloooow down”. For me, it’s not the act of speaking that is hard, but the work of using just the right words so that my message isn’t hidden in a pile of useless fluff.
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” -Deuteronomy 10:18-19
For my first week at RYM, I was very nervous. I was in a completely new state, with completely new people. I did not know anyone and was anxious about the group I would soon be meeting. The first mission immersion site that I went to, with my group, was the Welcome House. This is a Christian led organization that provides home for refugees and supports them throughout their transition of moving from the country they were born in and lived their whole life, to a place where they knew no one and are alone. They feed and care for the refugees until they are able to get on their feet and support themselves. What surprised me about this place was that, although run by Christians, the refugees do not have to be Christian to reside there. They do not try to push Christianity on them but, instead just showed them love and acceptance.