This summer, I spent 6 weeks living in the inner-city of Los Angeles working with former gang members and recently incarcerated men and women at Homeboy Industries.
Here’s the setting:
Natalia and I moved into a home that has one shower two bathrooms with 15 people. Our team was given a stipend of $5 per day per person that covers all living expenses (food, gas, laundry, tithe etc.) and we had a full technology fast. In the beginning of the project, my team handed in their cell phones and wallets and held on to their ID’s and health insurance cards.
By having the money stipend we learned about Lordship over money. In relocating into the inner-city we are able to experience what life is like for those in poverty and by having our technology fast, we were able to be fully present to what God is showing us through the teachings and experiences in LAUP.
We spent a week receiving teaching about the inner-city and spent the next five weeks volunteering with Homeboy Industries while continuing to receive teachings and experience inner-city culture.
Meet my team!
What a beautiful group of individuals, huh?
What is the purpose of LAUP?
LAUP gives students personal encounters with Los Angeles residents who are living in poverty. LAUP aims to lead students into service of the poor and offering them a foundation of faith from which they gain hope, purpose, and power to combat injustice in the context of the inner-city.
While Homeboy Industries is where our team spent their time volunteering during the day, we also had many teachings and experiences in the inner-city that taught us about several huge themes. In an attempt to succinctly yet accurately summarize what happened during this urban project, I’m going to break them down by theme of what I learned. Those these are:
Money, Race, The Inner-City and how Homeboy Industries ties in with all of this.
Let me start with money:
This summer I learned so much about money and how much power it has over me and in our culture. One of the biggest concepts I learned from LAUP was how to live simply to give generously. We had many teachings on money and outside of the context of LAUP it was hard for me to look at what others have and/or what is convenient to buy rather than seeing an opportunity to give elsewhere. My team and I lived on $5 per day, yet something we always said was, “I can’t believe how much abundance of food we have.” By the end of the project, we found so much joy in being able to give over 20% of it away. Prior to LAUP, I never heard of people agreeing to live at a medium income level and giving the rest away. Seeing their radical generosity has deeply transformed me and helped me think about how much more joy there can be in living simply to give generously and also how important it is that we do this.
One of the most powerful quotes of the summer that I heard was, “I had to empty my hands of all that I had so God could fill them.”
LAUP has been my first pass at racial reconciliation. Prior to LAUP, I had no idea much impact race played in our society and how important it is to understand our own ethnic identity as well as others’ ethnic identity. We spent lots of time talking about race, through the lens of the Trayvon Martin case. I learned so much about the journey of latinos and blacks and how easy it is as an Asian American to sit back and not care about other racial issues that occur – which is generally what I have done. I learned that as an Asian American follower of Jesus, it is my responsibility to care and grieve the unfair and racist circumstances that many blacks and latinos have had to live with everyday and to keep on advocating, caring and fighting for them until we are fully reconciled. It broke my heart to hear that for some black people, the Trayvon Martin case was just another example of what they’ve have to deal with on an everyday basis. Race matters, and although I’m not super politically savvy, I’ve experienced enough at LAUP to know that there’s something off with our justice system and race and that I desperately want to care for the systemic racial injustices that exist in our society.
In the first week of LAUP, we were sent to survey how difficult it would be for people in certain scenarios to find what they need (job with a criminal record, section 8 housing and other scenarios). In an attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of many people who live in the inner-city we encountered many difficulties that we like to call the cycles of poverty. There is an overwhelming amount of factors that people in the inner-city must face and I learned that if you want to begin to address some of the system injustices or fix the cycles of poverty, we must address issues in a holistic way. For example, we cannot fix the issue of homelessness if we aren’t willing to address how difficult it would be for homeless to find housing, receive education, get a job, eat healthy food, deal with communication barriers and many other factors. I know for me, feeding the homeless has been something that has been used to stroke my own ego or clean my own consciousness from these issues, yet in the bigger picture, it becomes a selfish act. LAUP taught me more holistic ways to care about these issues, in particular, to actually care for the faces behind those struggling with these issues.
Homeboy Industries provides hope, support and job training to formerly gang involved and/or recently incarcerated men and women to redirect their lives and help them become contributing members to the community.
I had the opportunity to volunteer in the development department and the curriculum department helping with administrative needs. The biggest piece of advice I got from Homeboy Industries was to stop everything you’re doing and talk to the homies and homegirls whenever you get a chance.
Homeboy Industries was the perfect opportunity for me to see all of the teachings in LAUP played out. Homeboy Industries absolutely addresses system injustice in a holistic way and is the largest gang intervention program in the country. I’ve got to hear stories from people who have had life sentences, have families who generationally are involved with gangs and/or those who are high risk of being involved with gang activity because of their families. Homeboy Industries offers a safe place for people in these circumstances to understand true kinship and get their lives together.
In getting a gauge on what the spiritual atmosphere is at Homeboy, I was able to have several spiritual conversations with some of the homies. I had conversations with on a regular basis with one homie in particular. We exchanged ideas about faith and who Jesus is and in the end I was able to pray for him twice over some deep situations in his life.
After 6 weeks, I’ve come out of LAUP seeing the world and scripture lived out in a very new way. I experienced so much of God’s grace in loving the homeless and going to skid row several times. I’ve taken my first pass at social justice and racial reconciliation. Loving the poor and the homeless has taken on a completely different theology for me after studying the passage after passage after passage where Jesus talks about loving the least of these while being in the context of LAUP.
Can’t wait to bring these teachings to the Greeks!