Bringing Shalom to the City….

stories from CityTeam International in Oakland, CA

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

random reflection

Where can I go from your spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the CityTeam rooftop, you are there; if I make my bed in the streets you are there; If I rise at 5am every morning, if I work downstairs in the basement, even there your hand will direct me, your right hand will help me feel secure.

If I say, “surely my life is crazy, too crazy for me, the crazinss doesn’t even phase you.  You are not stifled by the complexities of my life; Oakland’s craziness is still bearable for you.  This city and all its problems are in your hands.

Psalms 136:7-12 (revised)



Starting to Feel a Little Like Home…

Written by Samuel Garcia

June 28

You know that feeling when you feel like you’ve just begun to feel situated to your new surroundings?  Well, surprisingly, Oakland is starting to feel like home to me, Corrie, and Jordan.  It’s kind of weird, too. When we first came, I was pretty repelled by the residents.  Our space was cramped in what was an already antiquated building, early-morning breakfast at 5am was unthinkable, let alone hard to swallow, the rough attitudes and abrasive guys were hard to deal with, the homeless people were difficult to serve and love, but I’m starting to get used to it all, to the routine and the stories of hope that I hear from the men here at CityTeam.  After Corrie, Jordan and I came back from Jack London Square today, we felt at-home coming back to our tiny, mouse-infested room. haha.

Today there was a bomb threat around the corner from CityTeam.  There was a bomb squad and everything that came to detonate whatever was sitting right in front of Salvation Army.  Just another day in the neighborhood.  Also, there was an apparent fight right outside the kitchen where the homeless folks  were lined up before dinner. Only at CityTeam.

Yesterday as I walked out to check a store right in front of CityTeam, I was confronted by a man that that was telling me “Don’t look at me, cuz I ain’t got no cigarettes…I know that look when I see it”.

It was funny, not just because I wasn’t even looking for cigarettes, but because just for coming out the front door of the complex I was tagged as something unlikeable to society.  I can admit, I used to think that way about the guys who live here–low-lives, hopeless cases, abrasive personalities.  Now, I am marked as one of them, not just because we cook, clean, eat, do bible study, and work with them, but just for the mere fact that we walk out of the same building.  Now I’ve got to think twice before I judge anyone, because these guys are actually pretty nice to us.  We joke around, they look out for us, they’re open to sharing their stories, and even ask us about how we’re doing.  That’s crazy!!Image

June 27

So there were some church “volunteers” in the soup kitchen today, and it was humbling walking through the same line as the homeless people, extending out our trays, and getting a big slop of mystery meat, corn, and a piece of bread. I wonder if they think I’m another homeless individual, or even just another addict in the program.  I wonder what they’re thinking of me, what stereotypes, reflections, attitudes they have towards these people I now live with.  Man, it’s different seeing things from the other side of the line.  It was truly hard swallowing some humble pie tonight.

We also got put to work again in the basement today, which is now in the process of being converted into a closet for folks without clothes. The conditions are pretty bad down there, cuz there’s no ventilation, so it gets hot and humid, and, now that I think of it, it really smells like mold.  I feel mucus building up in my throat if I stay there too long. I hope they don’t put me down there too much more this summer.  It’s starting to look good, though!

Please pray for…

*the guys that live here, as they overcome their addictions

*new eyes to see people

*team dynamics

*CityTeam funding for new equipment and supplies

Hope for the City

Written by Samuel Garcia


Last night we got a chance to hear the stories and learn a little more about life in CityTeam, Oakland.  I learned that this place is not only a rehab/recovery center, but that it’s a homeless shelter as well! The recovering addicts who live here as residents are the ones who run this place.  They are the cooks, the cleaners, the teachers, the bible study leaders, the janitors, etc.  You would think that these people would have a hard time organizing themselves.  Surprisingly, this place is a well-oiled machine.  Everyone knows the duties and responsibilities entrusted to them, and they carry it out with pride.  I guess this program not only focuses on helping get a band-aid over people’s problems, but also helps people get back on their feet with job skills and social skills they have lost along the way.

Yesterday we met a man named Jerry who’s a 62-year-old resident living here on the same floor as us.   He has the far-too-typical story of having a life that has been wasted on drugs and street life.  He’s gone through life in jail and in violence on the streets.  He showed us 3 bullet holes in his stomach as evidence of a life filled with danger.  He can barely speak because cancer has disrupted the functions of his throat.  He has lost everything, including finances and family.  Still, as one of the oldest residents, Jerry is proud to be making a change for the better, even if it does seem like he has wasted his life.  He shared with us a sad tale of a life shattered with addictions, but he said that he felt as if God put him through those circumstances so that he could tell people like us to stay away from the drug world and all its empty promises.

We also met two middle-aged men named Steve and Dave who had very different stories than we hear of men suffering from drug addictions.  These two were men who actually worked in education; one was a teacher, while another helped out in a school system around the Bay Area.  Both are college graduates, held stable jobs at one point, but are now fighting the same battle as many other men at CityTeam.  It just goes to show that no matter how smart you are, the grasp of drugs knows no bounds.  We also hear that there’s a British chemistry professor in the program who’s also the House Manager.  He graduated from Oxford.  They call him “Professor” and I hear that he’s quite the character.  I can’t wait to meet him!!

This morning we got to go to church with a bunch of the CityTeam residents at “The Way” in Berkeley, CA.  Only once you get past your 30-day mark here do you get a chance to go to the church of your choice.  In total, there are only 3 CityTeam churches in the city, 2 of which meet on Sundays.  Only 6/24 residents came with us this morning.  That means most people living here are not past their 30-day mark and are just beginning their rehab journey, in the hopes that in a year they will graduate and remain drug-free.

 Jordan- 6/26/…

 Written by Jordan Williams

Hey peeps! First off hope summer is going well for you all and you are getting a much needed rest from school/work. As you know we have spent our first week and a half in Oakland at BayUp and it has already been even more of an amazing experience than I could have imagined. The mission statement for Bay Area Urban Project was “restoring Shalom (things as they ought to be, or how they were intended to be in the beginning) in the inner-city” and it is amazing how every single issue we have addressed so far has addressed either the problem of broken Shalom, or how it can be restored and what our roles are in accomplishing that. For our first week, we all met as a group for orientation at Regeneration Church and discussed injustice issues we would be seeing at our work sites, or just in the city and personal goals such as: violence in the inner city, God in politics, racial reconciliation, Earth ethics in light of scripture, the criminal justice system, the education system, and human trafficking (all huge issues either mainly in Oakland, or the world at large).

So much happened during orientation week that there is no possible way to include everything in a brief summary, but the highlights included: not having technology (which has been very refreshing), talking to people and asking them what Oakland means the them on International Blvd (the main street in East Oakland), spending a day as a low-income full time laborer (some of us were day workers, custodians, contracted laborers, or house cleaners ), spending a night sleeping on the streets, listening to numerous talks that were very impactful, getting to know all the other awesome BayUp’ers and developing lifelong relationships, and, most importantly, seeing where God fits into this crazy world (that seems to move 100mph all the time) and into our lives as Children of God pursuing his kingdom the way he intended us to.

After orientation, we left ReGeneration Church to all go to our worksites. Me, Samuel, and Corrie were assigned to work for a faith-based non-profit organization called CityTeam, where we get the unique opportunity of working with men coming out of substance abuse, hearing their stories, serving the organization through labor, and essentially just developing relationships with the guys and seeing Christ revealed as their lives get transformed. Unlike all the other BayUp groups (that will be working for different non-profits around Oakland), we are living on site with the men, eating with them, and just doing life with them. It has only been three days and it has already been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Once again, too much has happened for me to include all of the highlights in one post, but the best way I can sum it up is expressing the wonderful surprise of receiving relational wealth from the men we are doing life with, seeing the power of Christ play out in each of their lives, and witnessing what Christ can do for people that have seen everything they had ripped from them due to drug and alcohol abuse.

The general plan for us is to update our blog twice a week, so I hope to get another entry out in the next few days, but until then, God bless all of you and I very much appreciate all of your prayers! I’ll leave ya’ll with this verse “John 3 v.30” Peace!

Written by Corr…

Written by Corrie Emmons

To all my family and friends out there following this, I hope your summer is going splendidly! I love and miss you all. To my family who may be worried, I am not dead or injured and I have not taken any unnecessary risks. J

My time here in Oakland has reached a week, and what a week it has been. I arrived last Monday at ReGeneration Church  which is situated at the edge of East Oakland ,for our week of BayUp orientation. The orientation week was packed full of so many different ideas, sermons, activities, and testimonies that it is hard to tell them all, but I will try and do I some justice in hopes that you can have a better idea of what my experience has been like.

Speaking of justice…….. That is really why I am here in Oakland. God is a just God, and he wants justice for his people. What he wants is for things to be the way they ought to be. If you were to take a look around the world today, it doesn’t take very long to find something that isn’t the way it should be. The biblical term used to describe the way things ought to be is shalom. Throughout orientation week, we have been discussing shalom, and where we see it being broken or restored. It has sort of become the theme of our time here in Oakland, to seek shalom in the midst of this crazy city. Along with my 20 other fellow BayUper’s, I have been able to participate in a wide variety of activities that have given me a completely new perspective on issues of social and environmental injustice in Oakland and the entire world. Some of the things we have done included talking to people on the street in poor, crime ridden areas of East Oakland, hearing from various activists and Christian leaders on the injustices occurring in the city, experiencing a day in the shoes of the working poor (we actually worked for an entire day as either day laborers, janitors, or house cleaners. I was a day laborer) sleeping outside, and having many discussions on the topics of sex trafficking, poverty, immigration, and environmental ethics. To try and sum it up, orientation was AWESOME. I have learned so much already, and it is truly life changing stuff. God cares so much about what happens here in Oakland, and there are some very good people making a huge difference in this town. It has brought up a lot of questions for me, one in particular being does God actually do things in the midst of violence, despair and poverty of the big city?

That question has been answered about 5 times a day for me now. On Saturday, I finally moved into where I will be living and staying for the next week: City Team Oakland. Before I came to BayUp, I really didn’t know what to expect with City Team. What City Team does is remarkable. Currently they are housing about 20ish guys, who are all at different stages of their yearlong commitment to becoming sober, and graduating the program. The men in this program have already given me so much. Their stories of how they are coming out of addiction and into a real, living relationship with God have impacted me greatly. The faith that these men have is incredible. I have been honored and blessed to have their wisdom imparted upon me. I am feeling so welcome. It is truly a house of God. One of the highlights so far is being able to eat with the men, and help serve the people that City Team feeds everyday. Each day, City Team provides two meals to the homeless and afflicted people of Oakland, breakfast and lunch. This is consistent everyday! What is also consistent is that breakfast starts at 5:15 for the guests, and 6:00 for the members of the house…. So needless to say, I am currently trying to adjust to a radical new sleep schedule. It has been nothing but great though. I am loving my time here in Oakland, and every day God is changing my heart to love this City and its people more and more. Praise God for every thing he is doing here! I am blessed to be learning so much. I wish I could communicate more clearly how much God has changed me since I arrived here, but I can say that there is so much more to being a Christian than I ever thought there was before.

I will blog again soon, but for now please pray for Jordan, Samuel and I as we continue to dive into what God has for us this summer. The power of prayer is real!  Thank you so much for supporting and loving me. I am so grateful to be blessed by such amazing people.

I love you all, and God Bless!!


Orientation Week

It’s been pretty fun this week getting to know the rest of the BayUp staff and students in Oakland, CA.  We’ve already had lots of good laughs and memorable moments I’m sure we will remember even after this summer.

This past orientation week everyone has been housed at Re:Generation Church in the Lake Merritt area of Oakland.  Some of us have been sleeping on the floors of the nurseries, while those lucky enough have found couches in the sanctuary. I believe we will be moving out to our respective sites, however, tomorrow afternoon.


We got a chance to hear from locals today what Oakland meant to them.  I got to go to the Fruitvale district on International Blvd. along with four other students, which reminded me of the flea markets I used to go to as a little kid.  There were fruit carts lining each block, and each store had some Hispanic influence to it.  Most of the people there couldn’t really speak English, but here are some of their responses:

*Oakland is home

*People here are crazy!

*Oakland is sad

*A lot of bad things happen here, but you’ve got to fight for the good stuff.  You can’t just run away.

*Oakland is open to all kinds of people from different backgrounds

*Oakland’s an armpit

*I stay here for my family

*It ain’t the best place, but it’s home

6/20-Work Day Simulation

In order to step into the shoes of the working poor several groups of students were hired out as day laborers, housekeepers, janitors, and nannies.  My team did janitorial work at two oakland schools, Encompass in International Blvd. and Sankofa in North Oakland/Berkeley area.  There sure was a difference in the schools, but it was great seeing how teachers/administrators are trying to take back these elementary schools from the streets.

Since it is the time of year that teachers are moving out of their classrooms, we were asked to clean up and move a lot of stuff around. At Encompass we were able to talk to a teacher, which, in retrospect, seems like a privilege that most janitors would probably not be doing.  Her name was Ms. Marvin, a black woman born and raised in Oakland, but went to school in many places around the Bay Area.  You could tell she’s really fighting to care for her first-graders, as she told me that she is already starting to teach them about college.  I didn’t even know what college was until I was finishing up high school! Right on, Ms. Marvin!

I think one thing that stuck out to me through the conversation, though, was the fact that Ms. Marvin taught her students the value of working.  She told our team that most students who come through here classroom do want to be somebody, from teachers to engineers, doctors and lawyers. The reality, however, is that most of them will not be.   They live in neighborhoods that people get sucked into drugs and gangs, and, if they’re lucky, they’ll have a family of their own after they turn 18.  The language barrier is pretty evident on this side of town, so that just puts people more behind.  Most kids come from poor families and/or single-parent homes whose parents have not gone to college at all.  Ms. Marvin said that you’ve got to be proud of these workers and families, too, though, just as proud as if you were some kind of lawyer or engineer or doctor.

You need people to clean up the streets, to do the day laborers jobs, to clean the homes, flip the burgers.   Without them, life wouldn’t be the same.  And so as menial as these jobs may seem, they are people’s careers, and should be respected.  I only got a chance to clean out a teacher’s classroom at Encompass, but how long would that last before it gets trashed again?  It makes me think about janitors cleaning bathrooms.  How long can you take pride in that before you become jaded to the monotony of the daily routine?  Just to know that tomorrow your hard work again will be disregarded, and you will have to start over from square one?


We went to Street Level Health Project today, a grassroots organization on International Blvd. dedicated to helping undocumented workers find resources as they start their new life in America.  Although it mostly serves Latino immigrants, there are people from all kinds of countries and nationalities that are serviced here.  They offer food, legal services, free medical services, and even work.  One of their main projects now is starting a day laborers coalition that will help protect them on the streets from employer mistreatment.

We got to hear the story of Maira, the director of the organization.  She came to this country undocumented, but in due time was able to get her papers.  She told us stories of being severely underpaid as a live-in nanny in Miami, and her struggles with the language barrier.  She came here when she was 18, knowing no one and with only $20 in her pocket and a backpack with one change of clothes.  Unable to finish school, she worked here way up knowing that she wanted to help other migrant workers navigate the immigration system and also fend for themselves.  Now, she speaks to legislators in the state capitol vouching for her people and other undocumented workers.

It struck me the lack of fear she had telling her story, and that even, at one point, she said that she had to put her fear behind of La Migra and go for what she really wanted to do.  Even now in her broken English as she vouches for people in Sacramento, she knows she cannot sway the masses with eloquent words, but she knows that she can do it with her heart and passion for her people.  It gives me hope and courage to hear her story, and to know that immigration or an undocumented status isn’t a barrier any longer for some people to live out their dreams.  What excuse do I have for not pursuing the things I want to do?

BayUp 2012 Begins!

Hello Family and Friends!!

This is Samuel Garcia from UC Merced blogging about me and my team’s experiences this summer through a program called BayUp 2012 with InterVarsity USA! This summer I will be having a team of two CSU Chico students  (Corrie Emmons and Jordan Williams) joining me, as we will be posting our thoughts, reflections, pictures, and experiences of our time here in Oakland.

In our short time here we have been assigned to a ministry site called CityTeam International, an organization dedicated to helping get homeless men and addicts off of the streets. Please continue praying for us throughout our stay, as we get to see what God is doing in their lives.

I believe that in the midst of the brokenness and hoplessness that some of these people’s lives entail, that God does indeed have something deep and profound to speak into them.  In the process I think I’m learning that He has something to speak in to me, too.

Our Urban Project will begin on June 15-July 29.  We won’t have any access to phones and just time to post blogs online, but if you want to write to us, the address is:

722 Washington Street
Oakland, CA, 94607

Also, for those in the Bay Area, we will be having a Family and Friends Visitor’s Day on July 14th.  So come check out what we’re doing if you’re around.  More details to come soon!

We are excited for this and hope you can join us in support and in prayer through our posts and reflections in these next few weeks!

CityTeam International in Oakland, CA

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