On October 1, the 2011 Beeson cohort along with the class of 2011 Beeson International Leaders, flew to California for the most interesting and engaging leadership experience we have ever had. Imagine finding yourself in a situation completely different than what you have ever been in, and then embarking on something like the TV show, The Amazing Race.
Our location in California was Huntington Beach, which is in Orange County, on the south side of Los Angeles. We stayed in a beautiful hotel that looked out at the beach and then the Pacific Ocean. It was a great joy to run on the boardwalk as the sun came up. The sun was so bright when you faced it that it was difficult to make out the faces of those who ran or biked by you. They were persons illuminated by the rays of the sun, an almost angelic feeling.
Staying put along the beach would not hold the bulk of our time. As we arrived at the airport we discovered that our group of 15 would be divided into 4 teams. Our Sunday morning meeting at 5 AM gave more details to the objective of our teams. We faced two questions that needed to be answered by 2 PM on Friday: 1) Where are the breaches in the walls of the King's land, or where are people falling through the gaps? and 2) Who are people who are filling in the breaches, who is a repairer of the wall?
These questions would guide our work which included visits with a number of people. On Sunday we visited with church leaders in San Diego and in downtown LA. The rest of the week we did most of our research around LA.
The team I was a part of included Yeongjang and Ho from Korea, and Abraham from India. As we faced the two questions these guys tapped into their world-wide contact list and the multi-ethnic side of LA went on display. Abraham led us to an Indian Pastor, Ho to a Korean man running a ministry for Koreans that looked like Special Olympics. That ministry is in LA and 12 other metro-centers in the US. Yeonjeong led us to the largest CRC church Pastor in the US. Each of these three guys were unique and incredible.
The Indian pastor was about the age of my dad. Abraham and I noted he looked like my dad. They have the same hair line, a similar bone structure, a similar voice tone. I was amazed to find my dad's twin was born half-way around the world from him.
The Korean pastor leading the ministry to those with special needs shared with us about the work in the Korean community to help the community value fully the humanity of those who are not physically or mentally whole. As a young business man of 30 he was involved in an accident in LA. The accident left him paralyzed. In his culture, shaped by Confucianism, a debilitating accident or disease is symbolic that one has dishonored ones parents. A similar worldview is expressed by the disciples of Jesus in John 8 when they encounter a man who was born blind. They asked Jesus who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus said neither sinned. He healed the man. The question of the disciples is shared by people all around the world and it is still active. This Pastor/Ministry Leader is reminding his people of the words and works of Jesus.
The Pastor of the largest CRC church in the US leads a congregation of mostly Koreans on the north east side of LA. To get to the church we went north and east of Burbank into one of the valleys. The church serves about 4000 people on its site. Its service however goes far beyond LA. When the Pastor arrived in LA the church shared space with a Latino congregation near Korea town. In their sharing and interaction the Korean congregation heard the Lord calling to Mission on behalf of Latin America. Today they publish a discipleship magazine that reaches 60,000 in Mexico and Latin America, they supply classes that reach another 40,000 Latino's, they have planted a Seminary in Juarez, and they have plans to plant 800 churches in Mexico and Latin America.
The ministry I led our group to was Homeboy/Homegirl Industries in downtown LA. I heard about Homeboy in January when their founder, Fr. Greg Boyle, spoke at Calvin College's January Series.
The story of Homeboy's is long and filled with great joys and great sorrow, just listen to Fr. Greg and his talk at Calvin or read his book. Since he started serving in east LA in 1985 he has buried 170+ persons because of gang violence. Yet in the midst of darkness he and others listened to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, they decided to let their light shine in the darkness and the darkness has not snuffed it out. Their motto at Homeboys is "nothing stops a bullet like a job." At the downtown location we saw people in 12 step programs, people working in a bakery, people receiving job counseling, people working in a cafe, and people exploring urban gardening.
Fr. Boyle quoted from O Holy Night in his talk at Calvin: "Long lay the world in sin and error pining. Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth." In LA, we discovered that the breaches in the wall are those that have been present everywhere for all time - chief of those is loneliness (yes, that's the number one description of LA by its residents that we interviewed, a city of 21 million is a lonely city), from God and from one another. Thanks be to God we also found people who are workers in the King's land, working to overcome loneliness with one another, and chiefly with God. The Indian pastor said, "we know when someone is moving into the neighborhood from India, our calling is to meet them, to welcome them into community." The Korean business leader turned ministry director overcomes loneliness by creating welcoming spaces for kids and families who feel marginalized by the culture. When Jesus appeared, and when those who carry the life of Christ let their light shine, the souls feel their worth - and of what great measure they all are, and we are to God.
One side note to this journey, this chase. Each team was supplied a vehicle to drive. Before we left Kentucky I was designated a driver for a vehicle. Anna warned me that I was going to have drive differently than when I am out in the country. I have never been on roads so expansive or so busy in all of my life. My Indian friends tell me that I will get a real experience of traffic when I visit them in their homeland.
While all the other teams had great success with traffic and vehicles, our team had some challenges. On Sunday, returning from San Diego, a rear tire started to go flat. We changed it on the expressway. On Monday, after interviewing the Indian pastor, we were rear-ended by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. When we got out to look at our Suburban we noticed a few scratches on the underneath side of the bumper. The poor chap who fell asleep drove away in a Honda Accordian, the hood was buckled up and the front end abused. We were all glad to be riding in a Suburban. Our final incident involved getting pulled over by a LA police officer because he thought I was weaving too much. We had been up before 6, it was past my bed time and we were almost back to the hotel, in other words - it was time to go sleep and I was close to doing that on the expressway. He gave me council that I was glad to take - get a cup of coffee.
The leadership side of the game came through in ways that supported our adventures. I am looking forward to taking it and crafting it for others in the future. It is a great learning tool, and in the midst of it, we see who we are in the bright light of God, sometimes we are lacking and ugly, mostly we see with fresh eyes, and we begin to feel our worth.