Bringing Shalom to the City….

stories from CityTeam International in Oakland, CA

Letter from Our Director

Hello Everyone.  Here is a letter from our Director, Yu-Shuan.  They are some tips to help us continue pressing into some of the stuff God has been teaching us here at Bay-Up.  

Thank you for all you support!!

-Samuel Garcia

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Dear Friend/Family of a BayUPer,

 

Thanks so much for partnering with your friend as they participated in BayUP this summer.

 

I wanted to offer some suggestions to you to help your friend transition back to their lives at home and school. You may be surprised to know that the transition home is often harder than the transition to the new culture of the city. This is because students often come back and have trouble communicating what they learned and experienced. Sometimes they have a hard time finding people to listen to their stories. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by the relative material wealth they return to their lives compared to the poverty that they saw in the middle of Oakland.

 

As their friend, it is good for you to be aware that the transition home can at times be difficult. This can help you set appropriate expectations for your friendship in the first few months after they have returned home. And there are some ways that you can help your friend make the transition back home:

 

  1. Talk to your friend before they return. What would they like their first week to be like when they get home (they may not know for sure, but talking about it doesn’t hurt!).

 

  1. If you are picking them up from the project, remember that they are coming off of an intense summer emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. THEY ARE TIRED. They may not be up for an immediate welcome home party, or all the relatives to descend on the house, or dinner out. Most likely they will want a shower and some sleep. Ask them what they would prefer. They will appreciate your warm welcome.

 

  1. If you are not meeting them at the airport or picking them up, a card waiting for them at home or a phone call the day after their return is a great way to let them know you are glad they are home.

 

  1. The thing your friend will most need from you is your listening ear! They want to tell the story of their summer, but often find it hard to know where to begin. The question “How was your summer?” can be hard to answer because it is such a broad question. Asking LOTS of specific questions is the best way to find out what the summer was like. Here are some examples:

 

  • What was a typical day like?

  • What was your favorite thing about your summer experience?

  • What was the hardest thing about your summer experience?

  • What was the thing that was most interesting to you about the culture you were in?

  • What is different about how people relate to each other here compared to the culture you were in this summer?

  • What was the funniest or most embarrassing thing that happened to you.

  • What was the food like? What did you enjoy? Dislike?

  • What was your team like? Who were the people you were closest too?

  • How were your expectations about your summer met or not met?

  • What did you learn about yourself? About others? About God?

  • What are some ways you want to apply what you learned now that you are home?

  • How does it feel to be home? What did you most miss about home?

  • What do you miss about your summer culture now that you are home?

 

  1. You don’t have to ask all these questions at once! Consider having a couple of extended times (at least) with your friend where you ask questions about the summer. Maybe once shortly after their return, then again when the pictures are developed (if they are not already on a digital camera!)

 

  1. Periodically ask how they are thinking and feeling about their summer and how they are applying what they have learned throughout the fall semester.

 

  1. Some other fun things you could consider:

 

    • If your friend learned to prepare any traditional food from their summer culture, have a night where they make dinner (or at least one dish!) for you.

    • Look through whatever souvenirs your friend returned with and ask questions about them: were they given as a gift? by whom? what was that relationship like? If it wasn’t’ a gift, what prompted them to buy this particular souvenir?

    • Invite other friends of yours and your BAyUP friend to hear about the summer. Consider hosting a little dessert and let your friend tell his or her story and show some pictures to a group of people.

 

  1. It is ok to remind your friend that you had a summer too! Life in your world did not stop just because they were on a summer project. Tell them about your summer . . .

 

  1. Your friend may seem weird or respond to situations differently than they did before they left. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the changes you notice. Let them know you want to care for them while at the same time giving them the freedom to change and grow.

 

  1. Help them to re-engage with their friends on campus and their responsibilities in classes and with InterVarsity by helping them brainstorm ways to integrate their summer experience into what they are doing now.

 

  1. Most of all, continue to pray for and with your friend. Encourage them to take time for reflection and to be with Jesus.

 

The most important thing is just to be patient and ask a lot of questions. Returning home is often as much a part of the growth process as the summer at BAyUP. I believe the Lord is using all of these experiences to make your friend more like Him. Thanks again for blessing your BAyUP friend with your prayers, support and encouragement. May you also be blessed.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Yu-Shuan Tarango-Sho

BayUP Director

Written By: Jordan Williams

7/18/12-

Hey everyone, hope you are all doing well. Once again, this last week has been very convicting and has left a lasting impression on Me, Corrie, and Samuel. The guys at CityTeam are continuing to grow and are showing a lot of maturity by staying focused and humble through this confusing season of managerial shifting within the CityTeam staff. A lot of aspects of the house have been temporarily altered like the rules of the house for instance, because the staff have their hands full. It is evidently hard for a lot of the guys to deal with, because the structure that CityTeam provides for their lives is a huge factor in the success of their recovery (because structure is one major aspect of life that they did not have before they got to CityTeam) but it is great to see how they are handling the change and persevering through the adversity.

Unfortunately, the surprising realization that this is our last week on site is finally starting to sink in. It is such a surprise to us because it feels like it has flown by. A part of me really does not want to leave, but I am excited to take what I learned from the guys here and the staff and apply it to my life going forward.

Saturday was one of the major highlights of the week for me because it was visitor day and I got to see familiar faces for the first time in over a month! My parents and grandparents visited me in the morning and I got an opportunity to show them around CityTeam, meet the guys and staff, and share with them a little bit about what we have been doing here and how we have been growing. Later, we all went with Corrie and his parents to Jack London’s Square and got to hangout and catch up a little bit more. And if that wasn’t cool enough, when we walked back to CityTeam, we were surprised by a bunch of our Chico friends who didn’t tell us they were coming! So I got to repeat the process of showing them around introducing them to people, and sharing with them about what we have been doing on site and how we have been impacted.

Later Saturday night, we had a program night at ReGeneration Church in downtown Oakland (where we watched a brief video of injustice issues we have been being exposed to and discussing this summer, had a praise and worship time, and each work site got to share a video, spoken word, or dance that expressed what we have been doing and what we have learned to all the visitors). Me, Corrie, and Samuel presented a poetic spoken word piece (expressing what we have been experiencing at CityTeam, what we have learned, and what we will take away from the experience) from the perspective of us both before and after our stay at CityTeam, from the perspective of the men we have been working with, and from the perspective of God and the Bible and what he has to say about injustice issues and broken/restored Shalom relating to what we have experienced. I thought the presentation went really well and it was fun to see what everyone else had been doing for their presentations.

One other highlight of the week was our program day on Monday. We talked about the injustice and broken Shalom that surrounds the issue of Human Trafficking (work, organ donor, sexual, etc. exploitation). We focused mostly on the issue of the sex trade and sexual exploitation because it accounts for about 79% of the world’s human trafficking victims (and an even higher percentage in the Bay Area). We listened to a speaker that had done missionary work in the Philippines talk about the huge problem of the sex trade and share a little bit about her experiences interacting with girls caught up (voluntarily, or involuntarily) in that lifestyle. We also listened to a speaker, who came to talk to us from a local organization called M.I.S.S.S.E.Y. (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youths). She gave us insight on how big the problem has become in the Bay Area, how one becomes caught up in that lifestyle (the different risk factors that increase the likelihood of becoming a victim of sexual exploitation), and the kind of support the organization provides for sexually exploited youths (anything from clean diapers and other resources for their children, to basic resources for themselves such as food, water, shelter, counseling, etc.).

After listening to the speakers, we had a reflective and intercessory prayer session for the issues discussed, and for healing and restoration for people who have been sexually exploited and for those who have participated in perpetuating the problem. It was a very heavy time full of a lot of emotion for everyone, but the Holy Spirit was clearly present and was moving throughout the course of the night.

Overall, this week has been filled with many mixed emotions, such as: excitement for the growth the men at CityTeam are experiencing, sadness about the prospect of leaving on Saturday, and feelings of being overwhelmed after the huge topics and issues discussed on Monday. Well… I guess just another week in the life of the BayUp’er after all right? Still, as I have said before, lots of thanks to all of you for your prayers and support! It really does make a difference and I would not be the same person without all of you, so thank you again. Until next week, I’m keeping you guys in my prayers and I can’t wait to see everyone when I get back. Peace!

Written by Corrie Emmons

Hello Everyone,

First off I want to say I am sorry for not blogging as much as I should be. As I look at what my brothers Samuel and Jordan have written, I can say that they are doing an excellent job conveying what is going on here, and their thoughts on these issues are pretty much very accurate representations of what is going through my own brain.

So it is now July 18, and our time here at CityTeam is now coming to a close. On Saturday, we will be packing up and leaving to go to the School Of Urban Missions with the rest of our BayUP team for about a week. We will be participating in a time of debriefing everything we have learned and heard here, from our program days and our time at our respective sites. I would say that it is truly a bittersweet ending to our month at CityTeam.  The men here have become friends to me, and I will truly miss them. Since it is our last week, we are trying to cram as much activity into this period as we can manage. Out of all the things we have done here at CityTeam, there are still more facets to the ministry that we have not gotten to see in action or be apart of. SO this is the week in which we do all the things we have wanted to do! Yesterday, we got to participate in a community food distribution. This is different than the food bank distribution that happens every week day at the CityTeam site. Normally every week day, food gets dropped off by the Alameda County Food Bank, and we distribute it for free to whomever comes for it. What has been happening lately is the large Chinese community in Downtown Oakland has been taking advantage of the system. They come in droves, and take the food we give, and instead of using it to feed themselves, most people proceed to go sell it at their markets, or to local restaurants. This practice is totally fine, because the food is free to everyone who wants it. BUT, the purpose of the food bank is to get sustenance to the populations that actually need it. And in Oakland, there are a lot of hungry people who aren’t getting proper nutrition.

So the new policy is whenever produce is delivered to us, instead of giving that out at downtown, we load it all up in the CityTeam van, and head out to the projects in West and East Oakland. It was a cool experience driving up into the neighborhoods and knocking on people’s doors, or seeing people on the street and filling their arms with food. I thought to myself “these are the kind of drive-bys that should be happening.”

Yesterday was my first day doing this. I want to do it every day now. To see people receiving such vital and direct help is such a blessing. The best part about it is interacting with the community directly. The goal is to hit up of different neighborhoods and projects each time, and while we are there we get the recipients information so we can come back when they need things, and they can come to CityTeam to take opportunity of the other resources available to them. People need to understand that they are cared about, and CityTeam is letting people know in a very practical way.

So on Saturday the 14th was our family and friends visitor day, and I was blessed with the presence of my parents It was so good to see them and show them exactly what I am doing here at BayUP. One thing that I was sad about was that I wanted the same opportunity for my friends. But, low and behold, I got my wish as Jordan and I were on the receiving end of a surprise visit by our friends from Chico. Shout out to Moki, Anna G, Katelyn and Biscuit for giving me one of the best surprises I have had! It meant so much to have you guys come and see what BayUP is all about. I am truly thankful and blessed by you all.

 

So as I embark on the last couple of days at CityTeam, I ask that you please continue to pray for guidance and safety, as well as coherence with all the information I have been exposed to thus far. God is so good, and your prayers are heard. Thank you for taking the time to follow this blog, and I will try and post again soon.

Much Love,

 

Corrie

 

A Battle for Our Sexuality

Written by Samuel Garcia

7/17/12

“Being a prostitute is such a shameful thing in the Philippines that there is no Tagalog word for it.  Instead, sexually-exploited girls are called kalapatid mababa ang lipad, or, low-flying dove.”

-Laura Joyce Davis, Samaritana

Yesterday for Program Day we talked about Sex Trafficking, and how that plays out here in Oakland.  I thought this would be a time where I could, for the first time, sit back, and just listen with an attempt to be more informed of the situation.  I thought this would be an easy Program Day for us all.  This has nothing to do with me, right? I  was sooo wrong.

The first speaker that came to talk was a Mills alumni named Laura Joyce Davis, who dedicated a year of her life working with sex-trafficked women in the Philippines.  Yes, Philippines.  I started to feel a little tense when she said that.  They seem like such innocent people!  From what my mom tells me, the Philippines was a good place to be, where people were generally happy and free from the dangers of things as morbid as sex trafficking.  Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that this is not the case.  In fact, the Philippines is one of the top countries in the world that provides trafficked victims for the rest of the world.  Isn’t that crazy?  From Laura’s stories, many young girls are sold by their family members in order to pay their way out of poverty.  But still, the idea of even being some kind of sex victim is looked down upon by society.  The lucrative enslavement is so shameful that there is not even a word in the Tagalog dictionary that is synonymous to prostitution.  Instead, girls are called kalapatid mababa ang lipad, or, low-flying dove.  This does say a lot about the innocence of the girls who, many times, don’t know what they are getting themselves into at first.  Based solely on the desire to provide for their families, they work in the cities under employers that one day just take away all their money and threaten them to stay.   In essence, the girls have flown so low to the ground that they unknowingly begin to sully their wings.

So what does this have to do with me?  For one, I was surprised to hear how rampant this happened in the Philippines, where people are generally known for their kindness and courtesy.  Especially the girls.  How can they be taken advantage of?!?!

Later that day, however, a representative from Motivating, Inspiring, and Supporting Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSEY) came to talk to us about what really happens on a domestic level, especially here in Oakland.  MISSEY has it’s building probably 4 blocks away from where I live here in CityTeam, so again, I was surprised to hear what was happening in this community.

Apparently, the average age of entry into the trafficking industry here in the United States is 13 years old.  They are only children!! How could anybody even take advantage of that??

We heard stories of how girls from traumatizing homes are taken advantage of by pimps exploiting their vulnerability.  Before they know, they are locked up and forced to sell their bodies every night on the “track”, one of which is International Boulevard, a main street we take pretty frequently during the day here in Oakland.

I was disgusted by the stories of rape, manipulation, and physical abuse these girls faced daily, but also by the fact that most of them believe that their “pimp” is their boyfriend, and sometimes won’t even leave since he has been the only one in their lives that has shown any type of love or affection towards them.  It’s a distorted view of love, but it’s the only love they knew!  When girls sense that something is wrong, they are threatened by death or by beating.  Very recently, actually, a MISSEY client was found naked, beaten, and dead on Highway 13 the day before she was supposed to testify on trial against her pimp.  I seriously felt like vomiting at that point.

So as a man, I do realize that there are some interesting tensions for me when it comes to this topic.  On behalf of men who, in this society, have been hyper-sexualized from their environment and media, it’s not too hard to imagine what would lead a lonely john to pay money for a night with a woman.  At the same time, it’s not too hard to imagine what would cause a pimp growing up without good views of women to think that they can take a step too far and begin to control a woman’s life for his own personal gain.  It’s really not too hard to believe that.  When it boils down to it, the same evil that runs this industry is the same evil that runs rampant inside of me.  That was something hard to swallow for us all, and so Yu-Shuan had us go into an intense time of prayer where the women in our group prayed against the ways men have grown up wrong in society, but at the same time for the ways they have been victimized by them.  Mutually, the men in our group prayed for the ways we have taken our dominance a step too far with women, and for the ways that we also can better take care of women.  It was actually a very powerful night, where lots of inner healing happened between and within the genders.

I really think that as Christians we need to talk more about issues of sexuality, especially in the church.  There are so many things that “normal” people go through, I feel, that even parents are afraid to address to their kids.  Sex, sexual desires, and practices are things all people think about, but nobody really cares to talks about, for fear that it is too taboo to say.

Well, I got a rude awakening last night.  Little boys are learning from the streets how to treat a woman, and they think that it’s okay to objectify them for their own means.  Little girls are thinking that their bodies are not temples, but rather tools to be used for money out on the streets.  Can anybody see there’s something wrong with this?!?  If the church is too scared to talk about these issues, and in the right manner where the truth is laid out, our children will continue growing up with a skewed view of their sexuality, which, in my opinion, is a detriment.  As a church we need to take back the views of God and instill them into our children and youth…before perversion gets to them.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Corrie!!

7/16/2012

Today, 20 years ago, a MAN was born unto the Emmons household.  His name was Corrie.  Haha.  It has been fun getting to know Corrie, one of my roommates, from Chico this year.  In the festive mood, we made dirt and worms, a white culture dessert that one of my staff partners told me about.  Basically, it’s just chocolate pudding, crushed Oreo pieces, and gummy worms.  I was kind of surprised by the name of this dessert, but it actually does taste good, for those of you who are also wondering.  Happy Birthday, Corrie!!

My Name is Samuel. I’m addicted to….

Written by Samuel Garcia

7/12/12

Hello everyone!!

Thank you again for coming out to our Family and Friends Open House on Saturday.  It really meant a lot to us all, not only for you to come see our presentation, but also coming to CityTeam to see where we live and what we do here.  Hope you enjoyed yourselves, and thank you for all the food  :D

 “I lost everything in (hurricane) Katrina…I was a big baller before it hit….When you go from eating with  silver spoon to a plastic spoon, it’s devastating.  When you go from eating with a wooden spoon to plastic spoon, it’s just another day of the week.”

-Curtis, CityTeam Oakland

I know this was a bit before the Open House night, but I just wanted to share because I thought it was an honor to sit in on it.  Last Thursday we were lucky enough to sit in on CityTeam’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.  I’ve never been to one before, so I wasn’t even sure if it was appropriate for us outsiders to sit in on it.  I assumed it would be a time where others would tell their deepest darkest confessions, and end in a place of despair.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t like that at all.

The meeting began with several people shouting out some of their accomplishments like how many days they had been sober, or if they had moved up to a higher level in the program.  With each accomplishment, no matter how big or how small, everyone gave a loud applause for that individual, as a gesture of “good job ______!”  It wasn’t at all like the house meetings, which can sometimes turn crazy when people are giving their opinions on everyone else.  This, however, was a time for approbation and affirmation, a time where they can celebrate the little milestones in life together in community.

The next phase of the meeting brought the spotlight on an individual named Curtis, who is also part of the program.  Each week a new guy is chosen to share his testimony about what God had done in and through his life, so this week, it was Curtis’ turn.  Now Curtis was one of the guys I had met when I first got here.  He’s one of the main chefs in the kitchen, and has only been here for a little more than 30 days.  He actually taught me how to play Domino’s while I was here, and introduced me to a prison card game called P-knuckle, which I still don’t really get.

I won’t tell his whole story, but here are a few things that stuck out in his testimony

  • Curtis was sentenced to 15 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary-Angola Prison for possession of and selling of drugs, and found God there.
  • After a couple years, to his surprise, and an apparent glitch in the system, he was set free for reasons he still does not know till this day.  He returned back home to New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Curtis was a survivor of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.  As we all know, the aftermath was a horrific event just to watch on t.v.  Curtis said he “saw too many dead bodies left out on the streets, too much for a man to handle.”  That’s when Curtis started to relapse and turn back to drugs in order to cope.
  • Curtis moved to California, went to Bible School, graduated from it, and became a minister.  Unfortunately, he was still battling with drugs.
  • He got caught recently, and had the choice of either coming to CityTeam, or going back to jail.  He chose CityTeam.

I was surprised by his story, the complexities of him battling drugs and growing in his faith.  Again, I realized that no one is exempt from the disease of addiction, not even ministers.  It shouldn’t make us more scared of it, but perhaps think of different ways we can approach this disease of addiction.

After Curtis shared, there was a time where we each took inventory of ourselves, as in Step 4 of the program says we should.  I was reminded that I can’t always change reasons why people do things, but rather, in introspect, you can change the way you react to things.  We’ve got to really look within to see what triggers us to act certain ways or even react.  This was a time where all the guys shared a little more of their story.

12 Steps of AA

  1. Admit Powerlessness
  2. Find Hope
  3. Surrender
  4. Take Inventory
  5. Confess
  6. Become Ready to Allow God to Change You
  7. Ask God
  8. Make List of Amends
  9. Make Amends
  10. Continue My Inventory
  11. Pray and Meditate
  12. Help Others

I challenge you all to try the steps, for whatever addictions, destructive behavior, patterns, or habits you might have.  You can even do it with a partner to help you get through it, too.  That’s how AA works, actually.  The guys and girls do this all in community.

7/11/12

Written by Jordan Williams:

Hey everyone! I hope your summers are continuing to exceed your expectations like mine is. Before elaborating, I would describe my experience thus far as a convicting, humbling, but also an extremely fulfilling one. God has really been challenging me and the rest of the team to become more selfless and to get outside of our comfort zones and He has not failed to show up every time we have stepped up to the challenges.

This past week has been especially convicting for me as we have discussed, analyzed, and reflected upon injustice issues surrounding immigration and the criminal justice system in America. Aside from admittedly apathetic attitudes I had in regards to immigration, it is baffling to me to find how narrow and inaccurate the views I (as well as many Americans) have held and how the truths regarding the matter are either largely ignored, or repressed because of how unsettling they are. On Saturday, we had the privilege of listening to the life stories of two undocumented immigrants and how drastically their undocumented status effected their lives economically, socially, and emotionally. Later that day, we looked at what the bible has to say on issues regarding immigration/migration and teachings usually addressed a duty to receive and be hospitable to strangers, to love them well, and to always go with the moral law that God has layed out for us (even when it comes into conflict with the law of the land). We also discussed how unbiblical the American approach to the illegal immigrant “problem” has been and how it at its core, has been rooted in: fear, racism/discrimination (Arizona SB 1070), and greed. This attitude has caused a rise in deportation of immigrants (mostly Mexican, Latin American, and South American individuals) every year for the past few decades and the I.C.E. (Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement) agency, which is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security has set annual deportation goals that must be met and these goals have risen every year (2012 they are expected to deport over400,000 undocumented immigrants). Throughout the course of the day, the injustice surrounding the issue became more and more palpable, especially from a Christian perspective (I mean, Jesus was an immigrant in response to unjust political oppression as an infant for crying out loud!).

On Monday, we had another program day the addressed the injustices of the current criminal justice system. We listened to talks that addressed issues of: mass incarceration rates in America (over 2 million as of 2012 and far more than any other country in the world), the racial discrimination apparent in the ratios of inmates from race to race (African-Americans and Latinos make up over 80% of the current prison population), the discrimination of inmates even after they are released from prison (from social discrimination to the inability to be considered for many professions, or even food stamps!), the dangers associated with being in prison in the first place, etc. Our program day culminated with us watching a very heavy movie called “The Interrupters”. The movie addressed the social disaster of violence and murder rates in inner-city Chicago (one of the most violent cities in America over the past several years) spiraling out of control. The movie is called “The Interrupters” because it is a documentary (based on real footage) about ex. convicts that changed their ways making efforts to stop the deadly cycle of murder after murder (fueled and perpetuated by revenge, pride, and hatred) by interceding amidst dangerous interpersonal disputes and rivalries in an effort to help people to become aware of the severity and consequences of their actions. The movie was very graphic, sad, and difficult to watch, but it also addressed issues that must be acknowledged, and at the very least prayed about because they are happening on a huge scale all over the world.

The issues we went over this week were very heavy and difficult for me and the guys to process, but what did need to be acknowledged is that God is present amidst all of the brokenness, that his heart breaks more than anyone’s over these issues, and that redemption/renewal can be a reality for every one of these people (I feel that way, because Jesus felt that way about one of the men that he was crucified between and his crimes had to have been just as severe as these peoples’).

So… seriousness and sadness aside, what still cannot be forgotten is the fact that all of us have grown in our own unique ways this week and we have had the pleasure to witness many of the men at CityTeam experience similar growth in Christ as well. Today, was a very strong testament to that, as at least 8 of our guys got baptised at Shadow Cliff Lake in Livermore during our team outing today! It was such a privilege to witness guys we have been working with for weeks make such a strong declaration of faith! I was wayyy too stoked.

Well, to culminate, I would ask again for continued prayer for our growth as a team and that our relationships with the guys continue reveal Christ and bear fruit. Hope all of you are doing well and thank you for all your love and support, see you next week!

(p.s.- for anyone visiting us this Saturday, I would prefer that you arrive anytime after 11 A.M., I am looking forward to catching up, showing you around Oakland and our work site, and elaborating on my incredible summer, we are planning on having a BBQ for our team another BayUp site and all of our visitors around 4:30 (please bring food as we have a miniscule budget and will not be able to provide very much). Looking forward to seeing you all and God bless!)

Pics from our Journey

Jerry, one of the oldest CityTeam clients. He is 60 years old, born and raised in Oakland, and
even has battle scars to prove it.

 

view from the top of CityTeam. right next door is the Oakland Police Department, which was vandalized on 4th of July by Occupy people. 3 blocks down some people got shot in a commotion yesterday.

people waiting for food bank bags. It surprised me how insistent they were, even to the point of grabbing things out of the volunteers hands…just to sell it to their friends around the corner.

some of the guys at CityTeam for our A’s game on 4th of July. After almost being jipped by the person who gave us the tickets, we were able to enjoy the game. Go A’s!!

picnic with CityTeam Oakland, SF, and San Jose. We won all the games and hauled in most of the raffle prizes!! Love these guys!!

One of our good friends, Eric Lee, getting baptized by Pastor Ben McBride. 3 others were baptized today at the lake.

4th of July tailgate party with the CityTeam guys before the A’s game!! The rest of the night was spent watching fireworks being blasted off from East Oakland. The night sky was lit up, literally. Sure beat the crowds of Pier 39.

Are we Giving Moments of Redemption…or just throwing them away?

Written by Samuel Garcia

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Luke 23:32, 39-43

On the program day pertaining to criminal justice we got to see the brokenness of our country’s penal system.  Did you know that even though the overall crime rate of America is decreasing, the amount of prisoners in jail is increasing?  That means we are just sweeping people off the streets to throw them in jail!! We also learned that America’s jail systems are overcrowded, but only with Blacks and Latinos.  The U.S. is the lead in putting the most people away in prisons, when compared to other countries globally.  Why, then, is it only filled with colored people?  Another interesting fact is that black people are more likely to go to prison than they are to go to college.  Latinos are not too far behind.

This stuff really got me angry, because it gave some credit to all those stories about racist cops and how the prison system is just a big business obsessed with putting people away.  The truth hit home, however, when Mike McBride, pastor of “The Way-Berkeley”, the church that I have been attending all summer, told his story of a time when he was violated and humiliated by the police in San Jose!! He used to be a youth pastor for a big African-American church there, and one night coming home, he was pulled over for no reason, asked to spread his legs, pull down his pants, and submit to a full-body search and watch as the police ripped apart the interior of his car looking for drugs.  He said it was because they thought he was another guy.  But still, it didn’t seem right in my mind.

Brian Heller De Leon, from a non-profit called CJ and CJ, (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) had us do more simulations that helped us better understand the shortcomings of the incarceration system.  First of all, I do agree that people who do a crime should be locked up for however long in order to be disciplined in the matter.  What I don’t agree with, however, is the inability of the legal system to help you become a more responsible citizen upon leaving the detention center.  There’s no focus on rehabilitation or re-entry, which makes it difficult for some people with problems like substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and such, to have a normal life after.  They get caught up in the same situations that brought them to jail the first time, and, before they know it, they are spending their entire life in jail.  In addition, nobody is going to want to hire someone with a felony.  So how are these people supposed to provide for themselves without the ability to get a good job? The only thing they can resort to is selling drugs or engaging in another form of illegal activity in order to make ends meet, especially if they have a family.  This in effect will get them back to jail eventually.  They might as well stay there because food, clothing, and shelter is at least provided there.  That’s all a person basically needs to survive.

Doing another simulation, we had to race across the room, where everyone supposedly started off on the same line.  Some people, however, had to hold 1 or 2 bricks in their hand to symbolize social determinants like racism, substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental abuse.  I started off with a brick labeled “substance abuse”.  Each leg of the race symbolized key milestones people tend to go for in life—finish college, good job, get married, etc. We had to get across by either running, hopping, crawling on all fours, or skipping, in order to represent the differences in each.  To add to the twist, only the first few people who reached the finish line were rewarded.  Since people with bricks found it harder to accomplish anything, I pretty much lost the game, indicating that people with negative social determinants don’t tend to finish much in life unless they get help to take the bricks out of their hands.  And as they are more likely to be punished in a system that makes money off of their negative social determinants, these people who most likely come from low-income, colored neighborhoods, will probably be the ones we find coming back to prison.

What made this simulation significant for me, however, was the fact that the brick I was carrying—substance abuse—is the brick that my brother has been carrying for many years now.  He has been in-and-out of prison for at least 5 years now, and from the looks of it, I don’t really see him moving forward.  This whole simulation helped me empathize with him, though, because he hasn’t really got any help with a program that teaches him how to overcome that.  He just keeps getting caught back in the streets, and back into jail.  With a kid of his own, this devastating cycle perpetuates family instability, and, in the end, will do him no good anytime in the near future.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know, as of right now.  I’m not suggesting we set all prisoners free from their cells back into society.  I do believe, however, that there should be some sense of rehabilitation, and that as a judicial system, prisons need to be places that provide moments of redemption rather than become places where people are stashed away from society like something being tossed into the trash bin.

And it’s so cool how the Bible informs us even of this complex dilemma!! When Jesus died on the cross he offered eternal life to one of the criminals that was crucified beside him.  How cool is that! Even on his dying breaths Jesus still thought that the man next to him, truly a criminal of his time because to be crucified you had to be bad-ass for your time, was still worthy of redemption.  Do we as a society believe that of incarcerated criminals? Are we giving individuals moments of redemption, or are we simply tossing them away for the rest of eternity?

 

A Day in their Shoes…or perhaps more

Written by Samuel Garcia

Just this week, there was a shooting 2 blocks away from where I live.  On our way to Quickly’s, me and my roommate heard a cacophony of sirens blasting through the streets. Some of the guys at CityTeam said they definitely heard the gunshots not too long before. Today’s newspaper revealed that four people were shot in the commotion.  All the victims are now recovering.

Man, o man, this week has been intense for us, learning about immigration and the criminal justice system.  For our program day on immigration two undocumented students came to share their stories of navigating the immigration system without papers—unable to get driver’s licenses, jobs, and even financial aid when they went off to college.  What I found interesting was that one student was from San Francisco, and about my little brother’s age; the other one, Miriam, was my age.  They both found out that they were undocumented in their senior year of high school when it was time to apply to college and fill out a FAFSA form.  That is intense! Miriam shared with us that in the time span between her senior in high school (2006) and now, most of her family, including her parents, have been deported back to Mexico due to the new immigration laws being passed.  She now suffers from separation anxiety, but still works to help fight for immigrants rights here in California.  She helps advocate for the Dream Act, as well as other ways in which undocumented youth can have a path to education and citizenship in America.

InterVarsity, and especially InterVarsity’s BayUP, is notorious for simulations that help get students thinking about issues by putting themselves in somewhat the same shoes the targeted groups are in.  So, we did a simulation where we all received unknown identities (citizen, immigrant w/papers, or immigrant w/o papers), that no one else could see but us.  We also had proxe “ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)” police who pulled individuals aside at-random for questioning and if you had no papers, were put into a detention center.  To a lot of people it was a simple game, but as I remembered the stories of my family and their run-ins with immigration, and even my experiences of being racially profiled, the whole simulation began to feel intense real fast.  An immigration checkpoint was added, and the ICE officers were asked to find someone that looks like they were “illegal”.  I started to get frantic because I’m the only Latino male of the BayUp group.  I tried to stay on the perimeter of the boundaries and out of sight of the ICE officers so that I couldn’t get caught.  Though I eventually did get checked by the police, in the game I was a citizen, and I was let free.

So there was a lot that went through my mind doing that simulation.  Even though I was a citizen in the simulation, and a citizen in real-life, I was surprised by how anxious were my thoughts that ran through my mind.  I’ve learned along the way that the color of your skin can really get you targeted.  I do have papers to prove my citizenship, but I still feel like that doesn’t stop people from assuming that I’m not.  I’ve been asked if I can speak English, followed around stores, and even demanded to get someone food because they thought I was just another restaurant worker.  I don’t have to live in the same fear of being deported as undocumented individuals, but this whole simulation makes me wonder what my undocumented family has had to go through, knowing they are being watched and at any time can be asked for their proof of citizenship if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What surprised me later that day, too, was also learning that ICE puts immigration checkpoints primarily in low-income Latino groups.  Yet Canadians are just as likely to cross the border illegally, too.  That’s not racist at all!  By the end of the simulation I realized that even as a Hispanic citizen with some privilege, the reality is that I am still subjected to racial profiling by my American people, and that is a travesty that I will have to face for the rest of my life.

Even in the midst of all this, I was inspired to hear what the Bible had to say about immigration.  As a small group we went over the story of Esther, the orphan girl turned into a queen.  The truth was, she was an undocumented citizen herself trying to conceal her identity in a new land! Even though she had a choice to not associate herself with the plight of her people, she chose to reveal her Jewish identity, even if it meant being killed herself.  It makes me think about the courage undocumented individuals need to have just to be in this country, and to stand up for their rights if their people are to be treated fairly in terms of legislature.  They can either hide or reveal their identity, even if it means the risk of deportation.

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