Hello friends and family and friends and family of other BayUP students!
I hope you all have been doing well. Today is Day #11 at BayUP. We visited a local church today called “the Way” and attended an awesome block party in one of the Oakland neighborhoods. Picture a mixture of age groups – kids, high school students, college students, young adults, parents, oldees and a mix of ethnic groups – Chinese, Cambodian, Thai, Black, Latino, Guatemalan, White, etc. sharing laughter, life and fun together. The run down homes that lined the blocked off street was a sharp contrast to the joy-filled unity of a diverse people that filled the street. It was really a beautiful picture of God’s shalom–how things God intended them to be, right relationships with right people, restoration, peace, harmony—just some ways to define shalom. I even imagined myself wanting to raise kids in this community. This definitely was my favorite experience of BayUP so far.
BayUP has definitely been an eye opening and challenging journey. I will do my best to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the past 11 days. Please excuse my abrupt flow of thoughts, I was never that great at writing.
About 3 days ago, we finished our weeklong group orientation. Orientation was pretty intense. Each day focused on different topics such as working poverty, multiethnicity, racism, gentrification, etc. as various speakers were invited to share their personal stories. In the midst of these very emotionally heavy sessions, there was alot of time needed to process and reflect as each person was impacted by a spectrum of emotions rooted from their own individual lives. Along with going to sessions, all the students and staff have been able to share life together for the first week, spending all hours of the day with each other living under the same roof called Harbour House. It has been good without the distractions of technology (this was really obvious once we got our phones on Sabbath day as everyone’s head focused down on their phones). Once orientation was over (this past Wed), our teams blessed each other in prayer as we were sent out to move into our respective sites – mine being at City Team. I’ll share more about how City Team is in the next blog so I’ll focus on orientation right now.
Some of my wrestling thoughts–What am I doing here at BayUP? Why did God even choose me to be here?
During orientation we heard firsthand accounts from victims of injustices and activists fighting against these injustices. In response, I felt overwhelmed yet apathetic to the struggles of the urban poor and the systemic injustices that are going on. I felt uneducated and ignorant. I asked myself why I was even so excited to come to BayUP. I never really had an interest in learning about social justice anyways, how would coming to a program make that any different? However, I realized that maybe that’s why I am here. I don’t want to be ignorant anymore, but it’s still not just that easy to have a change of heart.
I am one of the few students at BayUP where listening to these topics is a very new experience. It makes sense that most students who come on this urban program know a little bit or alot whether from personal experiences or classes like sociology they have taken. For me, I came in with a “blank slate” towards these topics–no biases, no personal experiences, just open ears to listen, receive, and learn. It was hard though as I experienced my lack of understanding. I felt inadequate and I realized I was very unaware of the world around me.
Growing up, if I was not forced to learn in class about topics like history, politics, current news, and culture, then I wouldn’t. I never had an interest, it didn’t really directly affect me anyways. However, I am realizing that it is this disinterest that leads to a vicious cycle of ignorance which contributes to the social injustices around me. If I never develop a personal interest to learn, I would never be self-motivated to learn, to be aware, and to be a part of the change. That’s what I hope to gain here. I hope in some manner that these topics become personal to me so I can empathize and care more about the injustices going on.
It’s important to understand why we students are here. We aren’t here to evangelize or convert people. Instead, we are here to experience “mutual conversion” where both us and the people we come in contact with receive a paradigm shift or a change in attitude that points toward God. Something we are learning about and I am trying to work on is to humanize the stories we hear. To put a face to the struggles we are learning about. This is also an opportunity to witness God’s shalom which is how things should be – right relationships with God, people, earth, animals, etc—something beautiful that I had a brief chance to experience at the block party. A group of ethnically diverse people coming together in community despite the struggles they have faced or currently do face.
God has also challenged me with my own personal cultural unawareness. I am a Chinese American. Both my parents are originally from Hong Kong but my dad grew up in Vietnam. To be honest, I never really knew why my dad had a different story. Why he even grew up in Vietnam. God recently showed me that I know very little about my Chinese background, about my people, and the struggles they had to face. He wants me to reconnect and learn more about my own background. In doing so, I will be able to better empathize and love on other cultures and people groups.
It hasn’t been the easiest adjusting to BayUP with all the new people, the new environment, but mainly really all the students. It just takes me time to become fully comfortable with new groups of people. However, in prayer God has still been faithful.
Currently I have been living at City Team for the past 3 days. It has been good talking a lot with the men in the program. They really are normal people and even though they have a single story of addiction, that is not their only story that defines them. They are really friendly and really great guys. I look forward to sharing life with them for the next 4 more weeks and am excited to see what God wants us to learn and how mutual conversions can take place. More involvement with these men like going to their bible studies or sessions start tomorrow. So, more will be shared in the next blog. Not sure if it will be in a week’s time though.. It took a while to write this blog..
Here are some social justice terms/topics we have been learning about that you can look into:
Gentrification – profit driven racial and class displacement of urban and low income communities of color where higher income people are able to pay higher rent. It happens in areas where land is cheap and a profit can be made.
Interpersonal racism – racism between people (i.e. racist remarks)
Institutional racism – policies in a system that are not meant to be racist but they are
Systemic racism – systems of racism that cause a generational impact, probably the worse form of racism
Multiethnicity – What are injustices your people have faced whether you are Korean, Black, Chinese, Native American, etc? How has your culture shaped your own personal “narrative?”
Race, Ethnicity, Culture, Nationality – How do you identify with these?
Education – What are the holes in our public education system?
Working poverty – people who work day in day out to survive
**Keep in mind these are not fully flushed out topics/definitions. We only get a brief session on these topics since there are many topics to discuss. This leaves room to explore them more and educate ourselves more on our own time.
Prayer Requests: Pray that our team can unite spiritually together as one body. Pray that we can grow closer as friends. For deepening relationships between us and these men in the program. Pray for vulnerability and openness. For mutual conversion. Pray that we can all be fully present during these weeks to soak in all the goodness God wants us to experience. Pray for rest and energy (Us peeps at City Team need to wake up at 6:10am everyday to catch the 6:30am breakfast).
Thanks for reading and I hope this update blessed you in some way.