Relocation

Have you ever relocated? Knowing that Americans are extremely mobile, I’m guessing you have moved from the house you grew up in and have, at least once, established a new home or business. People relocate for many different reasons ranging from work, to health, to love, to family, to education. Underlying almost all of these is the strong desire to strengthen human relationships in pursuit of those aims. God well understands the idea of relocation. The desire for better relationship was the reason God relocated to be with us in the form of Jesus Christ. He loved and cared for us so much that he came to us as a child, and He has been with us ever since.

Relationships were the reason the Pekary family relocated to East Palo Alto. Shannon and April were compelled by a desire to share their relationship with their God with their community and their neighbors of East Palo Alto. The Pekarys became familiar with the idea of relocating to poorer neighborhoods and cities here in America through the writings of one wise pastor, Dr. John Perkins and in relocating the Pekarys took the first step of a process of what Perkins describes as critically important component to spreading God’s justice, triumph and love here on Earth.

Perkins is an African-American pastor with an amazing testimony and life story (you can read about it in the book “Let Justice Roll Down”) and has been in ministry since the 60s as passionate vessel for God in the areas of racial reconciliation, civil rights and community development. He’s been a pastor at several churches and has been at the forefront of founding and advising many different organizations that are involved in empowering and developing poor communities and neighborhoods—the most prominent being The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). In his book “With Justice for All”, Perkins describes the different steps necessary of working for biblical and just community development.

Relocation

With his first step Perkins echoes Christ’s call for believers to go and live among the poor. He describes his own struggle to obey Christ’s command to return with his family to Mississippi (from where he originally left) in order to share the gospel. Perkins shares with his readers with words of profound truth when describing the need for relocation:

“Neither politicians nor philanthropists can offer people what they need the most—the incarnate lover of Christ. Unless the church fulfills its responsibility to proclaim by word and deed the “Good News to the poor,” the poor have no true hope. We, the church, bear the only true gospel of hope. Only through us can the power of Christ’s love save and deliver them. The fate of the America’s poor is in our hands.” (pg. 56)

Relocation is not a value that Perkins has created out of thin air. Relocation is what Abraham, Moses and Nehemiah did. It’s what God did. We would not have the gospel today if Christ had not relocated and dwelt among us. Perkins writes,

“The incarnation is the ultimate relocation.” (pg. 89)

To relocate and live among those who are poor, to seek to make their needs our needs, to live out the gospel by working for the improvement of our neighbors’ lives in every manner—this is what Jesus did and we, as Christ followers, are called to imitate in obedience. Perkins stresses the divine importance of relocation:

“Not only is the incarnation relocation: relocation is also incarnation. That is, not only did God relocate among us by taking the form of man, but when fellowships of believers relocate into a community, Christ incarnate invades that community. Christ, as His body, as His church, comes to dwell there.” (pg. 89)

In relocating to East Palo Alto and sharing their home and lives with their neighbors the Pekary family have positioned themselves to share Christ’s love in daily action and deed. And now, with RYAA, the Pekarys are helping to spearhead an organization that serves the youth of East Palo Alto in a Christ-like manner—beginning with being physically, emotionally and spiritually near and present to those they serve.

This blog post will be the first of a series of blog posts that will be discussing the idea of “relocation”. Keep tuned! We will be bringing you future posts on this subject from the perspective of those who have decided to make East Palo Alto their permanent homes. 

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Going to Samaria

“Oh, they won’t come to East Palo Alto.”, replied Stephanie, a student at Palo Alto High School. Palo Alto High is on the other side of the freeway from East Palo Alto. Recently, we asked local high school students who were on Spring break to come to Cesar Chavez School in East Palo Alto to help with recess (See our blog at characterthroughsports.wordpress.com). This was in response to a request from the principal of the school, asking the community to help give the students a special treat after the students were released from testing. Our director had asked Stephanie why she was not able to get some of her friends who live in Palo Alto to join us, and that was her response. 

It’s easy to ignore East Palo Alto. There’s not really any entertainment or museum-like attractions here, in fact besides the need to cross the Dumbarton Bridge or experience IKEA, many people could live their entire lives in the Bay Area without ever stepping a foot in the city.

People from outside East Palo Alto avoid coming here. Most of this may be because of the crime rate or the reputation of the crime rate, although economics and race are most likely two larger unspoken factors. As someone from a white middle-class background I’ve known quite a few individuals, Christians, from various parts of the Peninsula, who have expressed worry, concern or even downright disbelief at the thought of living here, let alone visiting during dark hours. As is true for many areas of life the power of self-preservation and fear is strong, and for people outside of East Palo Alto that power can translate into the dismissal of the 30,000 souls who make a life for themselves working, playing, learning, sleeping and worshiping here.

Today many people from the Silicon Valley treat East Palo Alto similarly to how the Jews used to treat Samaria. At the time of Jesus, Jews and Samaritans were divided along cultural, religious and racial lines that went back hundreds of years. This tension and division was ongoing since Samaria was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. Brenda Salter McNeil touches upon this in her excellent book A Credible Witness (you should read it!),

“…most Jews avoided Samaria like the plague. They steered clear of it by taking a dangerous road full of hairpin turns where thieves could ambush, beat and rob them….But some Jews preferred to risk the perils of this treacherous and circuitous road rather than be caught dead in Samaria.” (pg. 40)

We catch a glimpse of the resentment between the two groups at the end of Luke 9, when the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus once they find out he is going to Jerusalem, and the disciples then ask permission to call down fire from heaven to wipe them out. It was in the midst of that climate, that Jesus fiercely shared the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in answer to the question “Who’s my neighbor?” Jesus seemed to be saying: “Your neighbor includes those you would risk life and limb to avoid.”

Despite the expectations of his day, Jesus deliberately walked through Samaria and stopped at a well in a Samaritan town (John 4:1-45), to have a conversation with a woman there. Jesus was deliberately violating the strong expectations, rules and taboos of the status quo on three different levels (socio-cultural, gender and religious) by both initiating a conversation and asking for a drink of water. What were these taboos? The division of Jews and Samaritan was one, the division between men and women who weren’t married was a second, and the fact that the woman was an adulterer who had five husbands in the past, was a third. Breaking just one of these lines of division by interacting with “the other” might make a Jewish man “unclean” and could seriously throw his reputation perhaps even his life, into jeopardy. To do what Jesus did and break all three at the same time would have been dumb, hence his disciples’ anxiety when they return to find their Lord talking in earnest with some woman at the well. Jesus knew what he was doing though and more importantly, he knew God. Turns out that by the conclusion of John 4 Jesus brings greater glory to God by transforming many of the lives of the Samaritan town’s inhabitants, including the woman.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus makes a point of telling us that we will be God’s witnesses to Samaria. Why do you think he spelled that out? Why was that important? What does that mean for you?

Which neighbor do you keep your distance from? Which lines of division are you following? Which fears keep you from physically and geographically following Jesus? Where is your Samaria?

Children and Parents Really Are Interested in God’s Word

I wanted to share a quick story about indoor soccer last night. We were short-staffed, so I had to coach the 4 and 5 year olds (which, actually, I love to do!) Usually, in the middle of indoor soccer, we stop and have a short Bible lesson taught by my daughter and some girls from our teenage girls club.

Eight o’clock rolled around, and they weren’t there. As time went on, some of the parents started asking if we were going to have the club. I was expecting the kids to ask, but the parents were the ones who were asking. I was surprised. I sometimes wonder if parents think we are imposing on the time with our half-time Bible lessons. I couldn’t be more wrong.

The Bible club teachers finally arrived, and all the children moved to the center of the court for the lesson. It was great to see how much they concentrated on the lesson. They were really in to it.

After the lesson, I turned my back and called out to start the soccer games again. When I turned back around, there was a big circle or kids around the Bible club teachers. I called again and no one moved. I had forgotten that the children could recite last week’s Bible verse for a small prize. They all wanted to do it. It was another 10 minutes before I could get the soccer games going again. Thank you Lord for reminding me that people really ARE hungry for your Word!

The Joy of Community

In sports, there is nothing that compares to the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.  Much like the ups and downs of riding a roller coaster, being in active in sports can twist and turn your emotions. At least that is what I have experienced in my 28 years of life.  How we learn to handle these emotional situations determines what kind of character we develop.  As I reflect back on my life to this point, it is really clear to me that some of the most definitive moments and important relationships I’ve enjoyed have be born from the field of play.  It is because of this thought – and also a passion to serve God by serving His people – that I chose to serve with RYAA a few years ago.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to meet hundreds of youth as a soccer coach, a Bible story teacher, a referee, a friend, and a mentor.  Its really cool when I am able to go out to the soccer field – like on tournament day – or when I am in the grocery store and I run into somebody whom I met through RYAA.  I love it when they get so excited to see me.  I mean, who am I?  I give a little time and I feel like I get so much love in return.  In the end, I am the one who is so thankful to see them.  And I also remember all the people who invested time in me when I was young – the people who hoped and prayed for my success.  Now that I am on the giving end of this relationship, I value their efforts on my behalf even more.

It is for these reasons that I highly encourage everyone to consider being a coach, mentor, prayer partner, or servant in any way you think God may be calling you.  I have been so blessed by the coaches and mentors in my life and I am excited to have the opportunity to give a little back.  In a way, it almost feels unfair because even though I am “giving” I feel like I get so much more in return.

– Eric Garthoffner (joyful member of RYAA community)

Trial and Triumph in Leading and Coaching

As Jesus left the world, He left us with a commandment to take the gospel to all the nations and teach them to follow all that He commanded.  Many have understood this as a call to go to foreign countries for short or long term missions trips to preach the gospel.  But we have many needy people right here in our own home nation too!  Some need material needs, but everybody needs love.  We encourage people to see coaching as an opportunity to spread the gospel through planting the seeds of Christ’s love and hopefully the end result is that both yourself and the youth will become (in terms of character and love) more like the savior Jesus Christ!

RYAA Soccer coach Greg Ullom describes how coaching affected him and the youth he served:

Well,this season was filled with mixed feelings for me. That is not to say that the things that were tough were bad. Rather, they were opportunities to get better. The tough times were always accompanied with sweet individual moments with the kids. I found it very difficult to communicate the importance of of certain things like team work, Christ-like attitudes, and soccer skills when the kids were in a large group.  However, when I would be walking to the field – say during a water break – I was usually approached by a kid on my team who would alway be excited to share with me a piece of their day or some other nugget of personal information about there lives. The cool thing was that it wasn’t the same kid every time!

As I think back on the season, I believe I actually spent one-on-one time with every kid on my team.  And the cool thing is that they all seemed delighted to talk with me. Of course, there were some kids I got to know better than others. And through the season these were the glimmers of light that really kept me motivated. The other thing that helped to keep me motivated was that I felt, on a number of occasions, the Lord reminding me that I have no idea how my interactions with the kids was affecting them.  Therefore, He reminded me to keep a good attitude and stay aligned with Christ.

– Greg Ullom, RYAA Soccer Coach

That final line says it all.  For Coach Greg, the result was he had a motivating force for staying aligned with Christ.  Also in his personal relationships with the youth, he helped keep them aligned with Christ as well!  We are all unique members with varying gifts of the same body.  How does God want to use you and your gifts for His glory? Won’t you prayerfully consider if God is calling for your gifts to serve with the RYAA community?

If so, please contact us and we will help you answer that call.

Our First Christmas on Dumbarton

Christmas can be one of the few opportunities for people to get to know their neighbors, especially in the Silicon Valley. So many people live in condos and apartment buildings here, and I regularly hear about people who have lived in the same place for years and never even met their neighbors.

While growing up, both April and I had parents that had us making home-made cookies and passing them out to the neighbors some time around Christmas. In April’s neighborhood in Tulsa, the love is passed around, and there is often more plates of various brownies, caramels, peanut brittle and the like received from the neighbors than passed out. It’s a sign of a great neighborhood.

Two years ago, we moved to Dumbarton Ave. in East Palo Alto, near the center of the city and close to the school where RYAA does most of its work. As Christmas Eve approached, we thought that doing the Christmas cookie thing would be a great way to meet our new neighbors. As we started making the cookies, I could sense that my children were a little nervous. It seemed to be a mix of not knowing what to expect, and having teenagers who simply didn’t want to look stupid. Were we going to look like a crazy white family trying to show off and just make things worse? Were we going to make people feel bad if they didn’t have anything to give back? Legitimate questions.

The first house went OK, and we received some smiles. But the second house was the beginning of things to come. With a big smile, this neighbor said, “Wow, thanks! You want to come in? We have tamales!” Well, there is a special place in my heart for good tamales. We had a great time, and left 30 minutes later with full bellies, and ready to go to our third house.

We went a few houses down to the home of one of our soccer families, and noticed they had a fire going out in the front yard and some family standing around. We were welcomed to the fire with smiles and passed the cookies around. And then I noticed a big pot on the fire. We were beckoned to the pot, and as the mom lifted the lid, she said, “Carnitas”. I was staring into about 40 pounds of stewed pork meet, simmering in beer and spices. 30 minutes later, I had enough. We stumbled back towards home, about 4 houses away.

As we got past 2 houses, I recognized another neighbor, one of our soccer dads, in front of his house. We dropped off some cookies, and he said to come back in a few hours, their party was going to get going. 2 hours later, as I approached their house, I saw a big crowd in the front yard, surrounding a huge blow up pillow, similar to one of those bounce houses, but without the top. In the middle of the pillow, was a mechanical bull.  A child was riding the bull, and the bored looking Mexican operator was giving the child a nice, fun, slow ride.

Wow, I always wanted to ride one of those. My neighbor, with a big smile, invited me to get in line behind the kids. Cool, this will be fun. As I got on the bull, my neighbor’s smile got bigger. In fact the whole crowd was smiling, including the bull operator. As we got going, my belly started reminding me of the two large meals I had a few hours earlier. After about 60 seconds, I wondered when the ride ends. The operator’s smile got bigger, and the ride got faster. The ride ends when you fall off. Somehow, my bottom found a seam between two pillows, and I found a spot that wasn’t quite so soft. An experience I will never forget.

I was taught a few lessons that Christmas (like, never ride a mechanical bull on a full stomach and always ask how the ride ends). Anyway, I encourage you to reach out to your neighbors this Christmas, and don’t let those little voices make you feel stupid. You never know what will happen.

Merry Christmas!