Monday, September 30, 2013

Mano Mano!

It is always amazing to see how much work can get done when many partner together using their brains and their backs. I have had the privilege of doing community work over the last decade plus. I know that there is great power in doing partnerships that help a community stand up and figure out how to help themselves. The opportunity is whether we are willing to step outside of our comfort zone and get dirty and whether those that are in tough circumstances can take some ownership of their lives.

This last Saturday the weather was perfect for doing a morning project. We had 60 volunteers coming from 5 different groups to impact an older neighborhood where the homes are 40 years old. We had already painted these three house two years ago and had come back to do trim, clean up, hand out more painting flyers, play with neighborhood kids and do a simple hot dog BBQ to finish off the morning. I am fortunate to have college interns from Arizona State and Grand Canyon Universities.

What I love the most about our community work is that it brings together a very diverse group of people both racially, socio-economically and age wise. I enjoy challenging individuals to think about becoming change agents who do something significant with their lives that impact a family, individual or neighborhood.  One of my older interns talked about the need for racial diversity to be better understood by those outside of our community. It is so easy to allow stereotypes to cloud our willingness of making new friends.

The beauty of having many hands working together is that no one has to sweat or feel like the burden of the world is on them! I love watching when a community comes together to strategically work smart and accomplish a few things in a short period of time. I know that doing street art with chalk will leave a memory of what took place that day for at least a week. I’m blessed to have so many friends that will share their time, talents and resources with those that are hurting. The end result is that everyone learns from one another and leaves with a sense of making a new friend, learning about life in a different context and hopefully considering being a force of grace and change. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Most Important Investment.

It was interesting to watch Wall Street with the coming out of the latest IPhone series. I know that many investors truly believed that Apple was on the way out to only discover that over 9 million phones had been sold over the weekend when the predictions had been more in the order of 5-6 million phones. I haven’t had much experience with investing in the monetary arena of Wall Street. What I’m investing in are people. I know that the amount of time someone spends mentoring someone younger has huge dividends that can’t ultimately be valued in the price of a share of a stock.

This morning I met with a college student who had recently moved from Miami to Phoenix to attend a local private college. He has a multi-cultural background that truly reflects the work of New City – Barrio. He had lots of questions about what we do and how we do it. His biggest question was whether I was willing to mentor or disciple him. I was totally excited to have someone who fit the profile of our kids and teens in my neighborhood show a real interest in becoming part of our movement.

What struck me as I listened to this young man over breakfast was his passion to do life right. He was just as much into theology as he was into impacting the lives of the youth in my neighborhood. One of the challenges in life is its too easy to be in the academic setting and forget about the real world that doesn’t fit into the lecture of your last class. I will be the first to recognize that education in many different forms is the path to a better life. The only question mark is whether we take the classroom to the street!

I have become a proponent of doing on the job training instead of being solely in a classroom setting. I truly believe that most learning takes place outside of the classroom where you can see real life practices regardless of your field or academic pursuit. The people who have impacted my life the most are the ones who are out ‘doing it’ and not preaching or teaching from a podium with their PowerPoint slide with their fancy pointer.

I am so thankful for my mentors over the years that have walked with me in both good times and not so good times. I can remember a young scoutmaster, Ron W, who was there for me and a few friends that saw us all become Eagle Scouts at the age of 13! I can remember my first real church ‘gig’ where my youth worker mentor, Sandy, taught the basics of doing missions in the neighborhood. Little does she know that her imprint has led me to the work we are doing presently! I have others who I have gotten to know for a season that have helped me hone the craft of doing mercy work!

Please rethink how you invest your time, money and talents or gifts. I believe that the hope for the communities around us is through this type of mentorship behind closed doors that will change the face of the world. I am convinced that the time that my team of volunteers spends with my little kids and teens will shape their future and their potential in the coming years. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Volunteers Rock!

We live in a day and age where specialists have taken over. Regardless of what field you pursue you will discover that without that grad degree you aren’t going to be able to accomplish much. The reality is that we have created a world where only the experts are able to engage in real life pursuits. I want to bring down this false perception of what really makes the world happen. Yes, I agree that I want my doctor to have gone to med school and know his area of expertise. Yet, the reality is that the person who has volunteered and given of himself or herself in a sacrificial way is much better equipped to make a difference in the world around them.

I know that in doing community or neighborhood transformation work that it will not be the high paid professional that will impact an individual but the volunteer that is desirous of giving back that the world will not stay the same. I know that it is oh so easy to step back and let only those that are deemed qualified to do what seems to be the most important work ahead of us. Yet, I see the real work of transformation takes place in a neighborhood, family or individual it typically happens through an individual who doesn’t have a graduate degree but has chosen to volunteer their time to make a difference in the life of a kid, teen or a senior.

I understand the power of stepping up to be an advocate for someone who isn’t capable of defending themselves or pursuing a better life is one of the most rewarding avenues to pursue. I just filled out a couple of online recommendations for one of my glowing examples of how someone that comes out of tough circumstances is still able to rock the world and go to a Stanford, Yale or Harvard. The reason my teen is able to do this is because of the mom and volunteers around her that helped keep her on track to be the inspirational person she truly is and not allow the circumstances of living in a tough neighborhood to stop her from pursuing excellence.

I will do a community project this week with probably have 60 volunteers. We will do a variety of things from painting 3 houses, handing out more painting flyers, doing a craft time with neighborhood kids and then cooking a lunch for the volunteers and friends of the families that we are helping. What makes this such an awesome event is that you don’t have to be a genius to help out! Anyone can paint the outside of a house, hand out flyers, do crafts or cook hot dogs on the grill. This will impact the lives of a senior, young single mom who is struggling and another family that has faced much hardship in life.

I believe that when we get out of our comfort zone and choose to do something that matters that life will never be the same. I had a situation on Saturday where a couple of new guy friends had volunteered to help a young mom who forgot she had a prior commitment. I quickly asked these guys, who were strangers, if they could still help do something else. They were quick to volunteer and say why not! So I used these new friends to help one of my grandpas who is watching his large carport support post slowly sink into the dirt. This puts his carport in jeopardy where it could eventually collapse.

I told the guys what we needed for supplies and I brought the tools to make this happen. The guys were so great at jumping in to make a couple of new supports and then knocked out the old rotten post that was causing the problem. I had them dig out the old post footing and we replaced it with new concrete with the right support. This took about 1.5 hours and the look on Mr. Cooke’s face was priceless. He had asked me repeatedly over the last year to fix this but I needed a few ‘guy guy’ types to help. So now the work of a couple volunteers had made a huge difference in the life of my friend brother Earl!

It is relatively too easy to abdicate everything to those who are perceived to be experts. The reality for me is that I have a group of elderly neighborhood leaders who totally understand and get the needs of their family, neighbors and friends. Yes, I have done surveys to assess the needs but could have a quick summary from any of them. My hope is that we can see the need for being an advocate for a grandparent or young single and still see the place of the social worker or caseworker that serves a special role. I enjoy pushing many to see that life outside their comfort is the way to live! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Looks Can Be Deceptive?

We do a life group every week where I invite a friend who shares their story. This can either be rather simple or complex depending upon who comes. Last night I invited a close Korean pastor friend and his wife. I always laugh when the perception of my teens is a little skewed. I think we have all heard the old adage don’t judge a book by it’s cover. The obvious perception is that most Asians, my teens can’t discern the difference between a Chinese, Korean or Japanese individual, is that they are all rich, quiet and genius types. Don broke all of these stereotypes last night!

I have lots of friends that are really outside the box. I seriously didn’t know how Don would do with our group, especially at a Starbucks. He came out of the typical quiet Asian perception of my teens and talked about his homies, growing up in the real hood in Jersey. He lived in a neighborhood that is actually worse then the ones around us in South Phoenix. His real story was one that hit home for everyone!

Don moved to the states from his Korean home because his mom wanted a better life for him away from a dad that was a womanizer, Don’s own words. I know that one of the common threads amongst the poor is usually the anger and hatred that comes from absent dads that either are in prison or totally disappeared. Don’s life wasn’t any different than our teens. His dad had never shown any real interest in him. His mom became his savior who worked multiple jobs so her son could have a better life.

My friend was real and honest about his dislike of the church and being around Korean speaking only churches or pastors. He was quick to talk about his wild rebellious youth experience in High School and College. He had memories of having a mom that worked all of the time and how he fit in with his Hispanic friends who loved sports and became a second family until his drinking and going wild got him into trouble.

I think the real crisis in his life was when his dad was on his deathbed and his mom expected him to travel to Korea and make amends with him. I hadn’t heard this side to Don where he was honest about wanting to tell his dad off. Wow – I saw some of his past anger and frustration with not being able to tell his dad how he felt. His trip to Korea didn’t give him any peace and his dad lived for a few weeks after his visit. The crisis that shook his faith was while in Seminary that his mom died from cancer. His world collapsed around him and he didn’t know how to express his emotional outrage at God for taking the one who had sacrificed herself for him.

I know that most outside the Asian community would assume that all Chinese, Koreans or Japanese are relatively calm and unemotional people. Don shattered this image and was alive in his way of sharing his journey and passion for getting grace through his mom’s loving example. My hope was that my teens would see someone that might look like they have it all together but is no different than any of them. Yes, brokenness is a common thread amongst all people regardless of your heritage.  I am so appreciative of my friend and his willingness to engage my group!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Life

I had the good fortunate and blessing of being part of the birth of little Johnny or Juan this week. It is too easy at times to let all of the ‘bad stuff’ that happens keep you down or in the mindset of saying ok now what is next? Yes, there was another multiple shooting this last week that killed 12 people. It is so depressing if you pay attention to the media. I was able to be totally taken in with the birth of this little six pounder.

It has been a lifetime since I was in the hospital with our little Heather. Unfortunately she wasn’t born in your typical way because she arrived 3 months early and was literally flown within a few hours to Mt. Zion a hospital in San Francisco that was 5 hours away from our beach paradise in Los Osos, CA. I don’t have any memory of actually seeing Heather without her being inside of an incubator or having a respirator sticking out of her mouth. It wasn’t until she was almost 4 months old that we were able to physically hold her. Yes, we could touch her and be with her but it required wearing a hospital garb, gloves and a mask.

The miracle of birth is always an experience that pushes you to see the good in life and realize that there is always hope. Yes, this little guy does matter and will have a large group of people around him that care and desire to see him get the best. I get to be in many ways a surrogate grandpa because the young mom decided to name him after our family. I know that being Godparents is a special honor that does bring about it responsibilities that are more than just an honorary title. My hope is that as little Johnny grows up that Anne and I will have the honor of helping him discover God in a real way.

Parenting starts from the time of conception when we decide in many ways what we are going to do with our little one. My prayer is that this single mom will finish school, get a job and be that mom that is able to multi-task and give her son the example of someone that isn’t afraid to work hard. She is very fortunate to have an amazing mom who already is an incredible grandma for little Johnny. It is a 24-7 time commitment initially with any newborn. Yes, it will be a few weeks or a month before the little guy can sleep through the night or sleep at least three to four hours.

I can now see how easy it will be to go around gloating when I have my own grandkids hopefully in the very near future!