Do You Want to Fight Housing Injustice?

 

A  friend forwarded a New York Times article to me yesterday that disturbed her greatly. I only finished reading it this morning (it is quite long), and I, too, am greatly disturbed. Affordable housing/accessible housing/livable housing has been heavy in my thoughts for several years now, and this article seems to illustrate so clearly how the American drive for wealth (especially in the realm of corporations) creates a tsunami of injustice that ends up swallowing so many of those unfortunate enough to exist at the lower end of the economic hierarchy.

As Christians, I believe we are responsible to fight injustice–ALL injustice–as we encounter it. The problem comes when we live inside such comfortable bubbles that we rarely directly encounter injustice, especially at a personal level. Or when we do, we have enough power at our disposal (whether that be our financial resources, our white privilege, our personal connections, our education level and/or job status, or even our own sense of self worth and entitlement) to fight back in an effective way. We live blind to the injustice in our own communities and beyond.

And so God sends us prophets. Voices that are willing to testify to the injustices around us. Servants to the poor who amplify their cries until they are loud enough for us to hear them. Leaders from among the oppressed to rally us to their cause.

We need to listen!

We need to join in solidarity!

We need to repent of our blindness, to redirect our resources and to sacrifice some of our privilege!

We need to ask Jesus to give us his compassion.

So today I am sharing this article and hoping many will read it all the way through and consider what our individual roles might be in helping to alleviate the kind of anonymous, greed-inspired injustice at play in the American housing/rental market.

I am also going to briefly share one possible way to fight this injustice on an individual level: Instead of buying a bigger home, buy a rental and become a landlord in the name of Jesus.

I’ll elaborate by telling you my story. A year ago, my husband and I cashed out on an investment and bought a foreclosed home. We fixed the home up (including a brand new AC) and rented it out at a significantly reduced rate to an ex-felon who, despite a steady job, could not find a place to live due to his inability to pass a background check.

My husband had wanted to do this for years. He spent much of the past decade leading a weekly Bible study in a felony pod at the county jail and had watched men come to know Christ, get sent off to prison, and then come back at the end of their sentences only to find they were completely locked out from successfully reentering society. Even if they could find a job, they had to live as vagrants depending for a place to sleep on the mercy of relatives, if they had any, or paying exorbitant motel fees since no one would rent to them.

The process of buying a rental home has shown me a couple of things. First of all, I learned that the kind of mass corporate ownership of lower income rental properties described in the Jared Kushner article is happening all over the place. Even in my fairly small community, out-of-town investment firms have snatched up most of the rental properties so that renters deal with an impersonal, non-local entity rather than an  individual. Secondly, I have been increasingly shocked by both the condition and the monthly rent for the many run-down properties around my city.

Simultaneously, I have been become increasingly aware of my El Crucero children’s poor living conditions: extended family groups (often 8 or more people) living together in less than 400 square feet, roach and rat-infested apartments that are rented out with no appliances, no air conditioning (not even window units), holes in the walls, busted-out windows, concrete floors. We already had made a promise to a particular renter when we bought our rental house, but there are soooo many others I know who need a decent and affordable place to live.

And yet I watch my peers all buying bigger and nicer houses. And my heart starts wanting a bigger, nicer house, too.

So I force myself to remember where my El Crucero children live. I think about how much rent they pay and how poorly their properties are maintained and how they have no other options. And I pray that by the grace of God, I will consider their needs more important than my desires.

 

 

The Best Gift

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Tonight Monica drew a picture of me while I was leading worship. We were singing Fix My Eyes by King and Country, and she drew me in the pose I take for the line “And love like I’m not scared.”

In just the length of the song, she got in all the details…my hair pulled back in a tight bun, my El Crucero t-shirt and jeans, my dangling daisy earrings.

I was so tickled when she showed it to me, I asked if I could keep it. So Monica added in the cross frame and the words: “Peace be with u Mrs. Brooke,” signed it and gleefully presented it to me.

I try to give all of the girls who come to El Crucero the gift of being seen and of being loved. Tonight, Monica gave that gift back to me.

Best. Gift. Ever!

 

A Still, Small Voice. (Rebecca’s God Story.)

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My dear friend, Rebecca, recently had an encounter that deeply encouraged my heart. I’ve asked her to write it out so that I can share it here.

In Rebecca’s words:

My daughters and I visit a local park a few times a month. On one of these visits I noticed two Spanish gentleman sitting on the stairs by the park restroom. They both had backpacks next to them. I could tell by looking at them that they were men in need. I just wasn’t sure yet what that need was. While we were at the park I couldn’t help but glance over and wonder what was going on with them. Were they homeless? Were they in need of a job? Were they hungry? They stayed on my mind the entire time at the park. God was speaking, but I was trying to visit with my friend. Okay, God, I hear you, but I have important mommy stuff to talk about. We left the park that day, and I said a silent pray for those men and went about my life.

A week or so later my daughters and I were back at the same park, and this time only one of those men from our previous visit was there. Same spot, same sad look. Again the Lord put him on my heart. I couldn’t help but feel the conviction of my heart telling me I needed to help that man. Of course I had a handful of reasons why I couldn’t. I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know him. What could I do to help? So my mind and my heart started to battle. That day my mind won, but Jesus had a plan.

A few weeks later my church had a local outreach. I was going with a team of volunteers to a couple of our local parks to serve in our community and share the love of Christ. The second park we went to was the same park where I had seen the man sitting on the stairs. When we got to the park, he was there sitting in the same spot as before. I thought: here I am living my life, always on the go, and here is this man just sitting there waiting. Waiting for something. Waiting for help? That day I had a friend with me who spoke Spanish, so now was my chance to listen to God and go speak to him.

My friend and I walked up and asked him his name. His name was Franco,* and he was indeed homeless. He was estranged from his family. Franco had been staying at the Salvation Army whenever he had the ten dollars a night to stay there. He was out of work and in need of a second chance. After getting to know Franco’s story, I told him I would see what I could do to help him out. I told him I needed a week….a week of prayer and to reach out to some of my friends who I though might be able to help him with a job. I asked Franco to meet me the next Saturday at the same time and place.

My group and I headed back to church to have lunch after our park day. At church I ran into my friend who owns a local plant nursery. I told her all about Franco and how the Lord had put him on my heart and in my path. She instantly wanted to help, and said she would talk to her husband and get back to me. A few days went by before she contacted me to say that her husband would be willing to give Franco a chance at his nursery. I called my Pastor at El Crucero where I teach in the children’s ministry and asked if he would meet me at the park on Saturday to talk with Franco.

Next Saturday came, and my girls and I headed to the park to meet Franco. He was there, sitting in the same spot as before with all of his belongings. A few minutes later, Pastor Andy showed up. Immediately, Pastor Andy recognized Franco. Franco was someone he had met in the neighborhood where El Crucero is. After a few minutes of talking, I realized I knew Franco’s children, and I had met his wife before. I knew where his house was! I knew at that moment this was a divine intervention! It’s truly amazing when you see how God works! Pastor Andy and I set up a plan to get Franco to his new job. My husband and I picked him up on Monday morning at the Salvation Army and drove him to work. Pastor Andy would take it from there. I spoke to my friend at the end of the week, and she said Franco was coming every day and doing well.

I am so thankful I obeyed God’s prompting on my heart and that Franco has a second chance. I’ve always been a firm believer God uses us to answer each others’ prayers.

Whose prayer is God asking you to answer?

Blessings, Rebecca

*”Franco’s” name has been changed for privacy purposes.

Refugees, (Il)legal Immigrants, and the Christian

I first posted this in September 2015 and believe it is even more important today…and it applies as much to refugees from Muslim countries as it does to Hispanic immigrants. Where do we go from here, fellow Christians?

Compassion is a Journey

I never would have supposed that immigration had the power to become such a central issue of the upcoming presidential election. As a Christian and as someone who ministers weekly inside a community of immigrants, many of whom I suspect are undocumented, I have been horrified by the amount of collective hate that has been slung toward Hispanics and Latinos in recent weeks.[1]

I have no intention of making a political statement here. Instead, speaking as one Christian to another, I would like to share my opinion about how we should be responding to the immigrants among us (both those who are here legally, and those who are not).

Let me start with what should be most obvious: hate is never the proper Christian response to another human being.

I will go even further, though. At the core of all the cries to “send those illegals back where they…

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Waking Up to Injustice and the 7 Stages of Grief

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There is a wonderful song in the musical, Ragtime, when Mother discovers a newly born Negro baby buried alive in her garden. Her first shocked reaction is “What kind of woman would do such a thing?” Soon after, the police show up with the baby’s mother, Sarah, a washwoman from a neighboring house. Mother inquires what will happen to Sarah and the baby and learns that Sarah will likely be arrested for attempted murder and the baby will be sent to a place “for unfortunates like this.”

Up to this point in time, Mother has lived a rich and sheltered life, moving willingly within the patriarchal hierarchy of her world. Her husband has just left on an extended journey; and in this moment of independence, Mother does the unthinkable. She takes responsibility for Sarah and the baby boy, bringing them in to her home. Standing there face-to-face with Sarah and the child, Mother’s compassion outruns her judgment and horror.

Talking partly to herself and partly to her absent husband, Mother concludes the song with these powerful lines:

What kind of woman
Would do what I’ve done-
Open the door
to such chaos and pain!
You would have
Gently closed the door,
And gently turned the key,
And gently told me not to look,
For fear of what I’d see.
What kind of woman
Would that have made me?

That final line always catches me in the gut: “What kind of woman would that have made me?”

When the pain of the world landed on her doorstep, Mother chose to see it, chose to take responsibility for it, chose to let it enter into the recesses of her privileged and buffered life. She didn’t have to. No one would have blamed her or thought badly of her if she hadn’t. In fact, her husband, if present, would have insisted she look away, and her neighbors would have likely applauded her for protecting her home.

Watching from our cushy seats in the audience, we accept her compassion without much thought, failing to fully grasp her bravery. It’s just a story, right? She did “the right thing,” and now the musical can move forward.

But as I listen to this song,  I always find myself thinking: What would I have done? What kind of woman am I?

I feel like God has been dropping some of the world’s pain on my doorstep these past few years and I’ve been trying to make room in my heart and my life to let it in. But it is painful and difficult. I often feel split between 2 worlds: the privileged and buffered world I was born into and the foreign world of injustice, oppression, racism…

In the one world, I and my friends occupy ourselves with buying organic food, decorating (or upgrading) our homes, juggling all of our kids’ extra-curricular activities, etc. In the other, I see people struggling to buy any food at all or to find even indecent housing that they can afford. I see parents who are barely able to meet their children’s basic needs, much less to provide them with even the simplest enrichments or opportunities.

Many days, I am left feeling completely schizophrenic.

It would be so, so, so, so, so much easier to simply close the door. To thank God for my privileged world and spend my time enjoying it to the fullest.

And no one in my world would blame me. I might even be applauded for how well I embrace God’s blessings.

But the door has been opened and I have looked through it. What kind of person would I be to turn back now?

The truth is that I have woken up to the reality of injustice. I have seen, I have read and I have listened. As a result, the way I see the world has changed. I recognize my white privilege. I recognize my complicity in an unjust system. I have some dim awareness of the masses of people in the world who are suffering today–this very moment–in ways I can’t truly comprehend. And I acknowledge my responsibility before God to care…to really, truly, sacrificially care.

But I still live in the other world…the world that is asleep, the world that is blind.

And I find myself grieving.

I grieve for those who are suffering. I grieve because I feel powerless to help. I grieve over my own sin. I grieve over the sins of my church. I grieve the loss of my former (easier) worldview. I grieve because I feel alone.

This journey I’m on has practically turned me into a poster child for the so-called 7 steps of grief:

  1. I feel shock (How can there be so much evil and suffering?) and denial (Certainly the world isn’t that bad and It can’t really make much of a difference whether or not I care or sacrifice or show up).
  2. I feel pain (particularly when I internalize someone else’s suffering) and guilt (I should be doing more, caring more, sacrificing more. If only I wasn’t soooooo selfish. and, conversely: I shouldn’t expect so much from others. I shouldn’t let the world’s problems make me so sad/angry/distracted/judgemental).
  3. I feel anger (some days, so very much anger), both at others (Why doesn’t anyone else see all this suffering and injustice? Why doesn’t anyone care? Where is the church?) and at myself (I’m making things worse by getting so upset. I’m failing to be loving and show grace. Why can’t I get rid of all of this anger?)
  4. Sometimes, I find myself trying to ward off depression; and I virtually always feel alone in my perspective and in the depth of my feelings.
  5. Then, I have good seasons when I make an upward turn (I’m able to focus on the good I see happening around me and to feel more gratitude than sadness)…
  6. …and have a prosperous period of reconstruction.
  7. Some days, hope wins. I accept that the world is as it is and feel encouraged to believe that even a small and imperfect ray of light makes a dent in the darkness.

A year and a half ago when I started this blog, a part of me was desperately seeking out a community of other Christians who have “woken up to injustice” and who could help me navigate through this difficult journey. I have learned that the blogosphere cannot meet this need (although, bless you Agent X for being the big exception).

And so, I faultingly plod on.

And I continue to share my experience on this blog both as a catharsis and with the hope that someone else along the way will be encouraged. I see you, fellow sojourner. I feel it all, too.

 

 

Killer Clowns

Last month, a number of my El Crucero girls were all a-twitter about some threats of “killer clown” attacks they had been hearing (and were repeating). According to word of mouth, these killer clowns were going to wreak havoc at a local school. They were also, supposedly, going to be out on Halloween night, killing at random.

My girls believed these stories and were scared. I firmly told them on several occasions that there is no such thing as killer clowns–they are a myth, an urban legend meant to scare people. “There is nothing to fear,” I confidently told them.

And of course, Halloween came and went with no killer clown episodes whatsoever.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when I arrived at homework help and two of my girls greeted me with the question, “Did you hear who won?”

“Yes, I heard.”

“Now we are going to have to move to Mexico.”

“But your mom was born here, wasn’t she?” I ask.

“Yes, but our dad was wasn’t. And —–‘s family is from Guatemala. They are going to be sent away.”

I asked the girls to remember how worried they had been about the killer clowns.

“You were worried for nothing, weren’t you? Don’t be afraid. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. One person doesn’t have the power to say something and have it magically happen.”

I full-well know that deportation is not, nor has it ever been, an impossibility for members of these children’s families, but I don’t want them to be consumed with worry about all the what-ifs. Mostly, I want them to know that I have hope that all will be okay.

“Let’s pray for your dad,” I say and they nod in happy agreement.

Then this morning, a friend sent me this picture of a letter that was handed to a child at a local charter school–the same charter school that SIX of my El Crucero middle school girls attend.

 

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I don’t think I have to express how horrified I am by this letter.

Friends, if the church won’t take a stand against hate and fight for sake of those who have no power to fight for themselves, then who will?

This morning,  I’m praying. I’m praying that what I’ve told my girls is true. I pray that they are safe and I pray that their families are safe; because after reading this note, I’m beginning to worry that maybe killer clowns are real.


I think you’ll find that virtually no one who holds hands with the poor and downtrodden feels happy about the outcome of this election.

My blogosphere is full of important posts this week. One post that expresses much of my feelings/thoughts is by Stephanie–a young woman who grew up as a missionary kid in South Africa and now lives in Texas: To my friends who are relieved today.

And here’s a heart-exposing post from an African American brother: Longer Still (Post Election Reflections of a Black Man amongst the Evangelicals)

Another is written by a blogger who lives in the Portland area among refugees: Day 8 and Day 9.

And from my blogger buddy who often sleeps out in the cold with the homeless and has a swinging door of foster children passing through his house these days: You Heard it Here First Folx!

The truth is that Jesus-followers are not limited to the either/or’s of our world and culture. Jesus always offers a third way–a way of humility, compassion and integrity. I long for the church to exert its energy, not on culture wars, but on finding and following that third way. Marantha!