It was 13 years ago when I ducked into the tar paper-clad shack of Jorge and Cristobal. A chicken defecated on the dirt floor to no horror or fanfare. Billboards–vinyl political propaganda–draped over the pallet-framed walls. The saccharine smiles and empty promises of last year’s mayoral candidate feigned angelic vigil over a newborn brother. Flies swarmed around his encrusted eyes, the air stale and thick with poverty. My friend Melody and I looked at each other in disbelief. My dad wouldn’t have kept his own pigs there.
That was the beginning of the end for me. The first Jenga block tapped out of my carefully stacked, perfectly ordered life. The same world I’d considered good and fair was shown to be cruel for others. My life up to that point had been rather magical. Even when I explain how life was to people outside northwest Iowa, it always strikes them as mythical. And maybe memory has a way of making it into the Mayberry it never was, but by and large, life worked for us. We gathered together as a community nursing cups of cheap coffee and lemonade in the church narthex, around family tables with cousins and overcooked roast, we voted midterms on straight-party tickets, we took in the harvests of neighbors battling cancer, police asked who your parents were and with a nod, gave a warning to slow down. This is the stuff of community. I’ll never be thankful enough for it. Life just worked. And then there I was in Jorge and Cristobal’s shack, a thousand miles away by land and ten thousand miles by quality of life. Life, unquestionably, didn’t work for them nor for many in Croc. It was that moment that my life began to be torn in two. For the past 13 years I’ve ceaselessly tried to reconcile these two, starkly different realities.
Lately, it seems those claims of two different realities are coming up a whole lot more. Something seems to be happening right now. It’s like the ground is heaving beneath us— things that once seemed so foundational are suddenly questioned and up for grabs. It’s threatening to be confronted with the question that maybe the world is not as we thought or hoped it to be. We don’t want to believe that life could be so harsh and unfair. It’s hard for us to allow what we’ve considered good to be spoken of as evil. But what if? What if our experiences of the world and others’ very different experiences of the world are both true at the same time? Could we create the space for one another, extend the benefit of the doubt and just listen?
Friends, I can’t tell you how filled with hope I am right now. I believe God is birthing something new in the world. Like the incarnation two thousand years ago, I believe God is inviting us to the most unexpected places with the most unexpected cast to bear witness to God’s action. Today’s manger scenes seem as laughable and implausible as the ones before–messengers with stories as improbable as those of the uneducated, toothless shepherds; cracked sidewalks transformed into stables; each revealing a piece of the puzzle we’d never known. Heavenly hosts are all around us, singing, calling God’s people to have eyes to see and ears to hear that in spite of what some are saying, God’s kingdom is actually at hand.
For the last 13 years, God has been turning our family’s world upside down. By living life among the poor in Mexico, among immigrants and people of color in Argentine, God has wrecked our neatly stacked world in the best way possible. What first brought us fear and anxiety, when we thought our tower couldn’t handle one more Jenga block being pulled, God gave us a new foundation upon which we could construct our world and new insight to his Kingdom. Over the years we’ve brought you and others into this world through Youthfront’s Missional Journeys, Something to Eat meal packing events, housing investments, carne asadas, backyard Bible studies, and even this newsletter. Together, we’ve been caught up in God’s dream of a new heaven and a new earth, bending our lives toward that future. This has been our work—to pull back the curtain on our world, to face whatever we find and to not turn away, to listen for God’s voice in that place, and to shape our lives and our desires towards God’s new reality.
Thank you so much for going on this journey with us. Thank you so much for your courage to face hard, unsettling questions and to not turn away. Thank you for creating space in your lives for Emily and I and for others. Thank you for your generosity and grace as together we stumble and fall together in the dark, surrendering ourselves to a God we trust will show us the way.
It might be cliché to say we couldn’t do it without you (still true), but we don’t want to do it without you. At the close of this year, maybe some of you are considering a financial gift because this work we’re doing together means something to you. Please do. We understand there are so many worthy things to give your money towards and we too, really need your financial gifts. But your partnership means more to us than money and some of you can’t anyway. It would be a true gift to hear from you what this work means to you and why you continue to follow us. Maybe you’ve had a nagging question or doubt and you’ve always wanted to ask. Maybe we haven’t talked in quite some time and this is the only communication between us. We’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, thank you so much for your partnership and have a very Merry Christmas!