Eventually we’ll get back to conversations about sexuality, and by the end of this post we’ll have looped back around to politics and the #bordercrisis, but it might be helpful to frame this in a more local context first.
I’ve spent the past four years working with inner city youth at an urban ministry in West Dallas. Before going on staff, I was working at a pub after college while perpetually existential crisising in my personal life. Coming to terms with my sexuality while firmly planted in the ex-gay movement, questioning all of Christendom because too many mysteries seemed too easily explained, feeling somewhat positive Nietzsche was the only one with answers but rather clueless as to what he was actually saying—it was a lot, you guys.
So I worked at a pub, paid the bills, read some books, smoked some cigarettes and did long distance running to cope with all the anxiety. Eventually, as I settled into just how grateful I was for Jesus even if I didn’t understand everything else about the faith, the thought occurred to me: “I don’t have all the answers and I’m not the prototypical role model, but I know I’ve been rescued and I’ve been given a whole lot in life. There are children—here in my city—who don’t have anyone to invest in them, to notice them, to communicate in all the small, simple ways that they matter. I might not have it all together, but I could at least offer my time: I could offer myself.”
So I became a mentor to a young girl in a low-income community. Then I started volunteering more and I met the kids’ little homies. Then their friends nestled their way into my heart somewhere between the first time a girl told me her story and the time they insisted I put Ranch on my cake. Then I ended up on staff and the kids totally changed my life.
My time working in a low-income community has only further frustrated my understanding of how political solutions play out practically, though. I’ve seen single moms hold down two jobs only to barely feed their families, and I’ve seen others sell food stamps to buy drugs. It’s not true that just anyone can blaze a trail to the American Dream (or even make a living) if they work hard enough, but the solution for that mom might be a hindrance for someone else.
While it all seems pretty complicated and confusing to me on a large scale, here’s what I know: human beings are transformed through relationships with other human beings. People need to be seen. They need to be touched. They need someone to listen to their questions or give them a ride to work on a rainy day. We cannot sit around waiting for the government to come up with a solution, or for those who are “more equipped” to step in, or for that imaginary season in life when we’ll have our mess together and huge windows of time where it seems like absorbing someone else’s pain would actually be the ideal activity for that day, or week, or month, or year. That time will never come, and those people can’t carry the whole load, and that government program won’t meet the relational needs of a child wired for intimacy.
It can become super sexy to have strong opinions about whatever big situation is going on in the news. Everyone has an opinion on why so many children are showing up at the Texas border and what we should do moving forward. Government officials need to be hashing this out and I’m praying for wisdom for our leaders. But our personal opinions, however right or wrong they may be, cost us next to nothing and make very little difference in the real world of real human beings. They’re here now! The kids are here. You and I can make a difference by actually doing something tangible for the children who have lived some tragedies and likely feel invisible. That will look different for each of us, as we all have different gifts and strengths. If you’re an attorney, it might be offering your time to do some pro bono work. If you love teaching, it might be tutoring or teaching English because they’ll be far behind in school. If you’re most of us, you can provide foster care to a refugee, or mentor a teenager who’s making the challenging transition.
If time is your concern, consider binging on the Netflix shows you’ll already be watching with a refugee by your side. If safety is your concern, consider whether or not insulating yourself from the suffering of the world might be more problematic than inviting someone into your life and experiencing the presence of God in the process. In my five years in the hood, I have never felt like I was truly in danger. There were times when guys twice my size were about to throw down, and after simply saying their names I’d watch them duck their heads and say: “I’m sorry, Miss Julie.” Relationships change people. I can assure you: there’s more to be concerned about in a bubble that insulates us from the suffering in the world than among those who are in need of an advocate.
If you’re anything like me, you hear about sex trafficking in Bangkok and you feel powerless to do anything about it. You read about gangs in the hood and you “x” out the screen because you don’t know if it’s the result of racism or fatherlessness or systemic injustice. You see pictures of children flocking to our border and you don’t know if it’s because the President passed a bill or because they were fleeing violence and victimization. So you turn your head and drown out the noise because you don’t think you can do anything about these massive global problems.
But victims of violence and human trafficking end up in our cities, and suddenly we have an opportunity where we previously thought only those brave missionaries overseas could make a difference. You can do something about these overwhelming problems by entering into the lives of a few people who are in your community in tangible, relational ways. You can change one or two kids’ lives and those kids will have a future they otherwise wouldn’t have had. We can be the kinds of individuals that create the kinds of communities that make small scale moves to alleviate the suffering of those in our midst with the hours, and hands, and homes we’ve been given.