Why did you move to East Palo Alto? An interview with Steve and Amy Joh

In a previous post we introduced the idea of “relocation” as a beginning step towards community development and spreading the Kingdom of God here on Earth. Like the Pekarys, The Joh family is another family who have moved to East Palo Alto after having learnt from Dr. Perkins’ promotion of Jesus and divine relocation.

In the beginning…

Before they were married and before they were even dating, Amy and Steve separately heard about the value of relocation and incarnational ministry while working with Bayshore Christian Ministries (BCM). For both of them this was right after college. Amy had moved straight to East Palo Alto in order to volunteer with BCM and quickly discovered the practical aspects of living in the city she was serving. In reflection she described how, “…you see more of the needs of the community as they start to become your needs.”

Having grown up in Los Altos, Steve recalls that the only thing he knew about EPA was that he was told not to stop on his way across the Dumbarton bridge. Yet after graduating Steve’s interest in social justice and ministry resulted in a job with BCM and he soon found himself in EPA all the time.

While working together at BCM, Steve and Amy began to date and the two began to become increasingly familiar with the families, youth and city of EPA. After Steve got a job with Highway Community church the two married and moved to Sunnyvale.

Relocating back to East Palo Alto!

“Being away in Sunnyvale made me realize how much people care about this city and it made me realize the real depth of the community here in East Palo Alto. People are more connected; they fight more for their community and have pride from being from here. The people of this city have worked hard for this place and they love it here, this is their community.” –Amy

After a year of living in Sunnyvale, Steve and Amy were compelled to move back and onto Beech Street. Steve was initially hesitant but eventually came to a place where he felt peace with the move. Steve commented that, “not only was it very convenient, with our current house being so close to BCM, but we knew it was both good and right.”  Aside from the practicality of Amy working just a few blocks away from home (an increasingly important detail since the arrival of their second daughter), both Steve and Amy have described the move and relocation as a step of obedience for them.

Steve remarks that, “Biblically speaking, there’s a constant theme of there being something special about the poor. God is with the poor.” Amy added that, “God cares about the poor. We felt that we should go where God is, and God feels more visible here than in the surrounding suburbia. Hard things happen here but being part of a community that suffers, forced to be aware, to participate, to live through that suffering has forced us to have a deeper faith and hope that is in your face.”

The Joh family

Thoughts on Relocation.

Both Steve and Amy have remarked that the step of relocating and living incarnationally has benefitted their ministries. Amy has found that it is easier to connect to the people she serves at BCM and that living in the same community helps to ease barriers. Kids and parents alike respect and treat her different. The act of merely living in the same community, Amy has found, “demonstrates the depths of how much you care in a way that words can’t.” Steve has found that living in EPA has made it easier for him to challenge and change perceptions that people in the church may have regarding the city. The house has served as a sort of “bridge home” that serves a safe place for Christians from outside EPA to begin to think about serving those in more tough situations. It also has forced him to think about living out what he preaches as someone on staff at Highway. Living in EPA has enabled him to live out what he teaches when it comes to loving the poor and underprivileged.

In moving to EPA the Johs are trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus, who himself relocated from heaven to Earth in order to share with his community the love of God. Since doing so they have learned new things about themselves, about God and about what it means to be a part of a community. It’s not always easy, as the couple have described the grief of seeing friends and acquaintances go through difficult times that have included gangs, drugs and death. They also add that they are very much still trying to figure things out and know that they will eventually have to decide where to send their daughters to school. In the meantime, Amy’s concluding thoughts on the manner is that, “While relocation is not for everyone, for those who are working with the poor, it’s very important.”