• Gabrielle Wong

Surprises and Greatness

August 24-26 was the Mission Care Fall Retreat for our residents and staff. Throughout the weekend, current and previous residents shared with the new and returning residents from their own journey with Care Fresno. Here is part of what I shared with the team regarding things I’ve learned and ways I’ve changed through my time in Care Fresno thus far:

I moved to Fresno when I joined Care Fresno in 2014 and I am in my 5th year as a Mission Care resident, something that constantly surprises me to think about. I expected to learn from this year-long residency program and then take what I learned elsewhere. Instead, I am still with Care Fresno, in an ever-changing role that leaves me marveling at how God’s ways are not my ways.

Through Care Fresno, I began living, working, and serving in the same place. As an urban missions organization, Care Fresno has helped me see missions as a way of life. More importantly, Care Fresno has helped me see following Jesus as a way of life. By living where we serve and intentionally engaging in our neighborhood, we blur the line between “work” or “service” hours and “home life.” This has led me to become more open to interruptions - stopping to talk to a neighbor as I come or go from my apartment, playing with the kids outside, taking a neighbor to do an errand. As the separation between work and home blurs, I see how I am supposed to follow God and represent God in everything that I do. I am moving away from compartmentalizing my life in a way that it was never intended to be compartmentalized. Following Jesus is not supposed to end after 2 hours of church or volunteering; it’s supposed to be my life day in and day out, though that looks different for different people in different stages of life. For me right now, that has meant having my home life available to be used by God by the same people that occupy my work life.

As I have gone through the Mission Care trainings and engaged with my neighbors, I have learned things that have informed the way I live and serve, including information regarding social justice issues and what the Bible has to say about these things. I have learned about asset based community development and I have come to look for what people have to offer rather than at what they lack.

Through this, I have learned how to receive. People often return from mission trips or serving opportunities and talk about how they felt they received more than they gave. For me, I had to learn how to accept gifts and adjust my perspective on receiving. Neighbors have shared their food with me, picked fruit from their garden for me, helped me defrost my car, and even advised me on how to care for my family. Each of these are cherished moments. I didn’t need these items, but I needed to receive their gifts. I needed to see areas of my own lack and accept not only the gift but the community behind it, and I needed to affirm the giver’s value by delighting in the gift. When I want to push back and say “no, thank you,” that is often a way of me expressing an internal belief that only I have something to give as I serve, which is harmful to both the givers and to me. By learning to receive in addition to giving, I celebrate the assets of my community and I have learned that one way of showing love is by receiving love.

I have also become more comfortable acknowledging the assets that I have and offering them to the Care Fresno community. I grew up in a Christian home and was taught the BIble from the time I was born. That is a resource, combined with writing abilities, that I have come to acknowledge in order to use them to benefit others. Partway through my first year with Care Fresno, I began preparing Bible lessons to teach the kids where I lived. This led to me developing the Bible study curriculum for all of our sites beginning the following fall, in collaboration with other team members, because I want all of our kids to learn about God in a way that is relevant to their lives. As I prepare to teach the Bible to urban youth from various cultural backgrounds who have little to no Bible knowledge, I have come to love God’s Word in a new way. When I prepare the lessons, I consider what they mean for the lives of our youth. When I teach the lessons, the reactions from kids who are hearing the stories for the first time pushes me to see the Bible with fresh eyes, and I am excited to be a part of that.

Care Fresno has exposed me to new communities and situations. In the midst of incredible things like sharing Jesus with kids, going to kids’ school events, and being part of family celebrations, I have grieved the tragic deaths of one of my kids and her mom, been a part of emergency relief efforts in my apartment complex, and walked alongside families going through difficult life circumstances. Kids lash out in verbal and physical ways. They move or grow up and residents come and go. All of these things have informed my worldview and faith. Navigating these joys and hardships has challenged my image of God and the world and made me think through what I believe and why.

I have grown in my capacity to love and serve when it’s inconvenient, hard, and painful. I have learned to engage in relationships despite the fear of pain that comes with relationships, especially ones that may end in goodbye. I am learning to be faithful in my roles, love fully, and trust God with the outcomes and trajectory of people’s lives.

There have been challenges and setbacks, joys and growth during my time with Care Fresno. I have found meaning and purpose in what I do. Through it all, I have come to a greater understanding of the greatness of God. I identify with this prayer of David.

2 Samuel 7:20-22 (ESV)

And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

There are many ways that I have grown and changed through Care Fresno. I pray that all of those display the fulfillment of God’s Word, promises, will, and heart in and through me. Through all the changes and surprises, I want it to all point to God’s greatness.