Monday, August 3, 2009

Seeds, Light and Dancing - A Kids' Club Reflection

Our team here in Venezuela recently finished a five-week kids' club in the neighboring barrio of San Pablito. SP has the reputation of being one of the oldest and most violent barrios in our part of Caracas. Walking into the barrio sometimes feels like you are walking into a cloud of darkness. If you pause long enough to take in the surroundings, you will find the barrio's main businesses, health clinic, primary school, a Catholic chapel, a game of dominoes and motorcycles recklessly zooming up and down the steep hill. You'll also find drunks stooped over on the side of the road, mothers hauling small children and groceries up the steep steps and groups of young men standing guard at strategic spots, watching the cars go by on the highway, ready to receive the next shipment of drugs or let their buddies know which marked man has just passed by as they fight for power in their crazy, twisted game of revenge. When taking us on a tour of the neighborhood, a Venezuelan friend said,

"that guy in the baseball cap you just shook hands with killed my cousin last week."

Everyone is connected in strange, often dangerous ways. Violence has wreaked havoc on every family.

The InnerCHANGE team has worked in San Pablito several times before and we knew what kind of an intense environment we were walking into. As we prayed before the first club, many of us saw visions of light for SP and we were reminded of the opening words in the book of John, speaking of the power of God's light and how the darkness has not and will not overcome it. Strengthened by these words, we ventured into SP twice a week to sing songs, play games, perform dramas, laugh, dance, teach and learn with a group of amazing six to twelve-year-olds. They delighted us with their joy, wore us out with their energy, inspired us with their creativity, dazzled us with their dance skills and gave us hope that another way of living is possible.

We don't know what the future holds for the kids in San Pablito. Looking back on the club, we are encouraged by the seeds that were planted, frustrated by the inconsistent attendance of many of the kids, angered by the violence right outside our door (we saw drug deals right in front of the school and one club had to be canceled because a young man was shot and killed on the highway in front of the barrio right before we arrived) and cautiously hopeful that some of what we taught will stick with these kids and guide them down the path of truth. Twice a week the gunshots ringing off the hills had competition from the laughter bouncing off the walls of the chapel and the light of God's word was brought forth through singing and dancing.

I thank God for your prayers and for the amazing kids in San Pablito. Please continue to pray that the darkness will continue to be pushed back by God's light and the children will keep singing, dancing and laughing God's Kingdom into being.

Just for fun, I've included one of my favorite videos of singer/songwriter/activist Michael Franti dancing in the streets of a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Every time I watch this video, I smile because it reminds me of the streets I'm privileged to walk everyday and reminds me of the good in the midst of the madness. Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

La Playa!

If you asked any Venezuelan to name some of their favorite things about their country "la playa" would definitely make the list. The Caribbean water is bath water warm and you can float for hours while watching the mist move over the top of the mountains. Here are some pictures from my latest trip to the beach. And here's hoping you're taking time to soak in the beauty

Friday, June 12, 2009

Home Home on the Callejon

In mid May, I moved in with my teammate KT on Callejon Sucre, just a short winding walk down the hill from the IC office. Here are some outside shots of my new digs.

The incredible view from the balcony

Two views looking up the hill

Walking down the stairs towards the door

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hometown Musical Musings

It's funny how much I've thought lately about what it means to be from Detroit. In a new context, culture and climate, knowing where you've come from is just as important as where you are and where you're heading. So what does it mean to be from Detroit? Being from the D goes beyond loving the Tigers, drinking Fago and Vernors and smothering my hot fudge sundaes with Sanders' hot fudge. I'd like to think that I learned a thing or two about putting in a hard days' work, taking pride in what I've accomplished and gutting it out during the hard times from the people I was fortunate to be around growing up. Yet I'm also painfully aware that I grew up in the 'burbs of one of the most racially segregated cities anywhere with some of the highest rates of child poverty. And the current economic crisis and the government takeover of General Motors are harsh reminders that the "glory days" of Detroit are far behind us and things won't ever return to the way they were.

So what does it take to rebuild a city? What does it look like for Detroiters to be the change they want to see in their hometown? What lessons can we learn from the mistakes and successes of the past that can shine light on the present and the future? Some of the best things are build out of destruction. Change often comes after we've been brought to our knees.

Jesus was once asked if anything good can come from Nazareth, his hometown. I think we're being asked the same question about Detroit. And I think we're being challenged to start being the "good" that is coming out of Motown.

So in the spirit of reflection and dreaming, here's one of my favorite videos. It's from Canadian rocker Sam Roberts' newest album about his reflections crossing the Ambassador bridge into the U.S. on childhood family vacations. And just for fun, I've included Tito the Bambino's song "Amor" that I'm hearing all over Venezuela. Enjoy! And let's keep dreaming and being the good that comes from our hometowns.

Monday, June 8, 2009

El Amor

Here's the missing video from the "Hometown Musical Musings". Enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Missing Pictures from the Newsletter

Here are the missing pictures from my newsletter. Above is a picture of the new mural across the street from the IC office. The Spanish on the side translates "happy are those who fight for peace". Our friend Arturo coordinated the mural and did much of the artwork. The fingerprints are from kids in the neighborhood.

April was an incredible month of learning, growing and being challenged. I spent most of the month getting used to Venezuelan culture with Maria and her family in San Pablito, a barrio here in Caracas. We're gearing up for two summer interns who will be leading a kids' club in this neighborhood in June and July. Please join us in praying for the kids, their families and a powerful movement of God's Spirit in San Pablito.

Celebrating Gaby's birthday at the zoo. Front row L-R: Andrea, Luis, Gaby, Adrienne and KT. Back row L-R: Cameron, Rolan and me.

Maria, Gaby and I.

Luis and Brayan playing volibol.

Some views of San Pablito.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!

This is the title of a chapter in a Max Lucado book I remember reading in high school. I've thought of this phrase often this past year as I've transitioned from a clear-cut, rigorous teaching schedule to a happily busy, but much more fuzzy missionary schedule. So much of the time I base my worth on how hard I work and how productive I am. My identity gets wrapped up in what I do rather than who I am.

As an American do-gooder, it's so easy to put on my "Superman cape" and swoop down to save the day, solve the problem or fix something that's broken. What often lasts longer and makes more of an impact in people's lives, however, is an ongoing compassionate presence. Someone to step into the mess, dwell in it, and offer a word of hope. It's not glamorous or flashy. Too often the "results" take years, even generations, to emerge. My work here is not as much about what I do, but rather the person I am, the greater body of Jesus followers that I belong to.

I was reminded of this last week when I came down with tummy troubles thirty-six hours after landing. I was forced to sit, think, pray, refect and just be. I read, I slept, I listened to music. I took a walk up to the roof of the InnerCHANGE office and watched the sun slowly dip behind the hills, then illuminate the underbellies of the clouds with light and color. I had no choice but to simply sit and behold. It was beautiful.

So as I stumble my way through a new environment feeling much like a little child trying to figure out a world of adults I don't understand, I take comfort in knowing that I loved, I am valued, I have a purpose. I am slowly learning to stand.