“This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.” - Hafiz
I first heard this quote in 2010 while I was in college, during a time when I was preparing for and dreaming of becoming an international missionary. However, instead of some far-off land, God sent me to Fresno, my birthplace. I joined Care Fresno in 2014 with a desire to learn about urban missions and take what I learned elsewhere, but I ended up learning concepts and tools that I am applying to continued service in Fresno.
As one Mission Care year ends and another begins, I wanted to share a few thoughts and tips for new Mission Care team members (and worth repeating to returners), thoughts that are not my original concepts but that I hope will guide others and myself in ongoing work and ministry:
Enter the community in which you are placed with a learner’s posture; you don’t know the neighborhood and what it has or needs better than the people who have been here and there is a lot they can teach you if you are willing to learn. You are not bringing God to the neighborhood; God is everywhere, so He is already here. Look for where God is already at work, for the assets and strengths of the community rather than for signs of poverty and crime, and join God in what He is doing. At the same time, be open to learning about systemic injustice and how the history of this city has influenced the way your neighborhood is today, including poverty and crime rates. Spend time with kids outside of program hours. Get to know their parents and see yourself as here to support parents, not rival them. Love the families as if they were your own family. Invest in relationships with the Mission Care team members. Work on your relationship with God and develop healthy habits because Mission Care can be challenging. Every year I spent with Care Fresno was hard, and each year was harder than the year before it. Give yourself space to process what you’re going through and learning, and find wise counsel to talk you through it.
Through my time with Care Fresno, I’ve grown in my relationship with God and gained a better understanding of what it means to love my neighbor and the marginalized. I’ve caught a glimpse of God’s heart for justice and righteousness. I’ve learned to live in community and walk alongside people whose stories are different from mine. I’ve learned about other cultures and more about my own cultural background. I’ve seen how God has channeled my passions and skillset to serve Him from my birthplace rather than overseas.
This past weekend, I moved out of my Care Fresno apartment and said goodbye to this place that has been my home for half a decade (in addition to my year at Summer Park apartments). I’m looking forward to where God will lead me next, that place He has already prepared and circled on a map for me. While I intend to maintain some contact with those with whom I’ve built relationships, I am saying goodbye to this season of life as a Mission Care Resident. I’m engaged to be married and my soon-to-be husband and I hope to incorporate what we have learned through Care Fresno to wherever we live as we serve our community through church, work, and neighborhood engagement together.
I’ve been told that I’m a good-byer; I value closure and goodbyes. If you have been reading my blog posts, that includes you. Thank you so much for being on this journey with me and for caring about what God is doing in neighborhoods through Care Fresno and in my life. May you engage a little deeper in the contexts in which God has placed you, and may you be open to pursuing God’s shalom in the new places and relationships to which God may call you.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” - Ephesians 3:20-21
In mid-March, so much of life felt like it came to a screeching halt in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. As a society, so many things have changed. For Care Fresno, after school programs ceased with the Fresno shelter-in-place order, as did our Mission Care classes, though both later resumed via Zoom. While we were suddenly no longer running a physical program in our neighborhood, my roommate and I continued to physically live in our apartment at a Care Fresno program site.
I have been working from home and spending more time at my apartment under the shelter in place ordinance. I’ve been in my apartment during times when other activities would previously have had me elsewhere. I’ve been able to listen to the birds, observe my neighbors, and literally and metaphorically smell the flowers. I’ve taken more walks around my neighborhood and talked with my neighbors who are also out. My pace of life has allowed me to slow down and focus on those around me instead of the next thing on my agenda.
This is a confusing time, with conflicting information, constant updates, and frequent changes to what people should or shouldn’t do. In the midst of social distancing, should I hug one of my kids who’s crying or an eager kid running up to me with a mask on? I’m no longer sure what is acceptable - not just based on what the government or health officials say but based on my neighbors and families’ levels of comfort, and my own comfort levels are also in flux.
My roommate and I have brought food, fruit, and books to the homes of families we know. We’ve been able to regularly check in with our neighbors to see how they’re doing, provide conversation, and listen to them share how the coronavirus is affecting them. Some families are excited to have social interactions and some are nervous and want to keep the conversations short, with one putting on a mask or gloves before opening the door. Through all of this, we continue to do life alongside our neighbors, sheltered in place in the same complex as them, navigating this season together. To be sure, the coronavirus is affecting me differently than it is my neighbors, but I view this time as an opportunity for me to show that I am still present and care in the midst of other areas of uncertainty. Though the methods may change, being a good neighbor should never be cancelled.
In a way, this is what Care Fresno prepares its Mission Care Residents for: living in community and loving neighbors beyond the parameters of any given program, because it’s about building relationships, not running programs. Hopefully, each of us emerge from this shelter in place a little better at loving our neighbors.