What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like (in Real Life)? Part 1: It’s a Treasure Worth Giving Up All For

in my last post i shared with you my findings of what the Kingdom of God looks like according to the bible.  i realize that that post title was misleading in that some, including myself, want to know what the Kingdom of God looks like…unfolding in the 21st century, in the here and now…in real life.  my friend A.R. reminded me that those stories would be helpful examples.  with that in mind, i hope to take the 7 aspects of the Kingdom of God i (re)discovered and “flesh them out” with what i have witnessed myself of the Kingdom of God breaking through in our midst.  halfway into drafting the first “story” it dawned on me that this task may be more than 1 post could handle so i plan to publish a total of 7 posts over the course of the next couple months for each principle and its corresponding true story from my experience that illustrates the principle.  

here goes the 1st: so what does the Kingdom of God look like…in real life?  

#1. (of 7) the Kingdom of God is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

for me discovering the value of the treasure of the Kingdom was a process.  i received the King into my life around 7th grade.  the deeper understanding of the Kingdom and its worth, especially the giving up stuff, came after that.  there have been different things and relationships i’ve had to lay down in order to “seek first the Kingdom” and, i suspect, i will continue to this side of heaven.  

but the most significant thing that comes to mind that God led me to give up, in my journey thus far, was the security of my job.  i was 8 years into my career as a public high school teacher when my wife and i sensed God calling us to move into the inner city for the work of His Kingdom.  it was not a decision we came to easily, but it was confirmed by multiple convictions and events.  we had no idea what this ministry would really look like and what exactly God was calling me into but, one thing was clear, i would have to leave my job and the security my salary represented.  i had to take a step of faith into the unknown because Jesus, my King, was calling me to move out of what was familiar to me.  i put in my resignation at locke high school in the spring of 2011.  i joined an unpaid internship to learn about living amongst the poor that fall.  we found out that my wife was pregnant.  i was unemployed for months and could only find a job as a substitute teacher.  it was a humiliating step down for me who used to be a full time teacher.  

then in the beginning of 2012 i sensed God was calling me to be a pastor of outcasts full-time.  but to be a pastor in the neighborhood i now lived in meant that i would need to fundraise my salary (which at most would only be half of what i was paid as a teacher), not only because our church could barely pay the rent but because anything raised by our church we believe should go to a local leader that is raised up, not a “relocator” like me.  then my father-in-law saw my fundraising letter.   he was furious.  he could not believe what i was doing and what i was about to put his daughter and his grandchild through.  he yelled “are you a beggar?”, “you are a fool to think people would support you in this work!”  needless to say, the Kingdom of God did not feel like a treasure to me at that point.    

so, i prayed, “God, if this is the work you want me to do, please provide the $2000 of monthly support our family needs within the next 6 months.  please vindicate me.”

and He did.  and then some.  

you see, it was not just the money he provided to meet that initial goal  (which God provided within 6 months!) through generous supporters who believed in this work of expanding the Kingdom of God; he was giving me and my family so much more than we had imagined.  what we give up for the Kingdom, we get Kingdom treasure in return.  i had left my locke II community of teachers, one of the most amazing staffs I have EVER had the privilege to work with.  we had left our church community at wlah, who commissioned us with such grace, love, and support (they are still our biggest supporters).  we have now gained spiritual family i never would have gained, if we had clung to our familiar comfort.  spiritual family members that come from different backgrounds, social classes, and races than my family.  spiritual family that prays for us so faithfully and with so much more faith and desperation (with tears) than we have.  spiritual family that God speaks to with things for us that we never even told them.  

you see, we may have thought we were moving into a neighborhood to help those in need but God was moving us into the neighborhood for our growth, for our healing, for our wholeness.  we think we are making a sacrifice to serve others but God uses that process and those in need to turn around and bless us with what no money can buy.  it may not come in the timing or manner that we may expect but, in God’s Kingdom, the blessings go ALL around and are shared with ALL.  

you see, Jesus was telling the truth that what we give up for the Kingdom is not worth comparing to what we gain in the Kingdom.  it is something that rewards “many times more” in this life as well as the life to come…indeed with his Kingdom, we’re still witnessing the treasure unfold.   

nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

What does the Kingdom of God look like?

child king

if Jesus laid down his life to preach not just a gospel of the King but a “gospel of the Kingdom”, what then does this Kingdom look like?  and how is this Kingdom actually good news, and not just another man-made kingdom that will come and go?

at best, the “Kingdom of God” for me was a “christianese” notion that was a vague echo in my head from passages i’ve heard in the bible (and told myself that someday i’d get around to studying) and at worst it’s a phrase whose interpretation i just blindly accept from the people who use it.  the following is my attempt to study the phrase as it is found throughout scripture, trying not to rely on commentaries for the work i ought to first do myself (and please don’t just take my word for it either, but look into it for yourselves.  i realize we all bring our own perspective to the reading of scripture but i don’t want us to use that as an excuse not to allow it to speak to us.)   with these clues i hope to piece together what the bible reveals of what the Kingdom of God looks like, a Kingdom that Jesus says is already breaking through in our midst if we care to recognize it.   

 

so what does the Kingdom of God look like?  

1. it is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is so valuable that, when it is found, it is worth giving up all THINGS (Matt 13:44-46) and even all PEOPLE (Luke 18:29-30) to have.  According to Luke 18:29 it is something that rewards not just in the life to come but “many times more” in this time as well.  Nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

 

2. it is eternal

the Kingdom of God endures throughout all generations and lasts forever (Psalm 145:13).  daniel prophesied that it would end all other kingdoms (Daniel 2:44) and it is indestructible (Daniel 6:26).

 

3. it is accompanied by supernatural power

this was probably the most surprising discovery to me.  with 10 verses connecting the Kingdom of God to supernatural power, no other descriptor of the kingdom comes up more frequently.  there are some outrageous claims about the Kingdom of God, that can easily be dismissed as a “pie in the sky” worldview, if it were not substantiated by power.  i’m not talking about human power consisting of simply the means and authority to exert force (thanks, mark charles) but supernatural power which, by it’s very demonstration, substantiates its source as being “above” that which humans can claim.  

God’s kingdom is not just about talk but it comes with power (Mark 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:20).  the gospel of the Kingdom is not just a proclamation but a demonstration of power, power over sickness (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Luke 9:2, Luke 9:6, Luke 9:11, Luke 10:9) and power over darkness to drive out demons (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20).  any discussion of the kingdom that does not address supernatural power is just playing at the Kingdom of God.  

 

4. it is good

unlike most, if not all, other kingdoms, it is good.  not good in the sense that it makes everyone feel nice but good in the sense that it does right.  what good is good if it’s only good for those who oppress others?  rather the foundation of this Kingdom is built upon “righteousness and justice” (Psalm 89:14).  the Kingdom of God is not merely outward behaviors but a matter of springing from the deep internal reality of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)

 

5. it starts small but becomes great

like a tiny seed of the mustard plant, Jesus says the Kingdom of God starts small (Matthew 13:31-33, Mark 4:26-32, Luke 13:18-21).  so small it may be easy to miss.  so small it seems insignificant.  so small it feels like it’ll take too long to wait for it to become more.  but grow it will. and it will grow so greatly that it could provide comfort to so many others than just oneself.  so great that the universe itself will show visible signs of its fulfillment (Luke 21:25-31).  the Kingdom of God is great but it won’t always look that way at first; it requires patience and is a process.  those who skip over this may find themselves chasing something else entirely.  

 

 

6. it is a mystery revealed  

the Kingdom of God is a mystery to most but to some it is a gift revealed (Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10).  In a way, the Kingdom of God is hidden in plain sight in that Jesus gave all who would hear access to it.  but he told of the Kingdom through “parables”, stories that could be taken at face value but that pointed to a deeper reality for those who would care to look further.  why not reveal the Kingdom of God more plainly?  maybe such a form would serve to weed out those who were not truly hungry for spiritual things.  there is hope in that even the disciples of Jesus didn’t get what the parables were always about, but they did stick around with Jesus to find out.  the Kingdom of God is going to grow.  we can do our part but at the end of the day, like a growing seed, it will grow whether we fully know how God does it or not (Mark 4:26-29).  

 

7. it is a reversal of worldly status 

probably the most distinctive aspect of the Kingdom of God, that sets it apart from all other kingdoms, is the radical (and often unsettling) worldview of privileging those at “the bottom” of the earth’s social status.  this aspect of our King’s heart is not some side-note in His scripture.  next to point #3 above, these associations of the Kingdom of God with “the least of these” are the most reiterated.  

in the economy of the Kingdom of God “the least” are the “greatest” (Luke 7:28, Luke 9:46-49).  the Kingdom of God belongs to children (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) and the poor (Luke 6:20, James 2:5) whom society tries to push aside.  the Kingdom of God will go first to the “sinners” we don’t expect to be a part of it (Matthew 21:31).  

can you imagine such a Kingdom?  where the people that the world tells us are “losers” are the ones who are held in most high esteem?  where children and the poor are our models of faith and how to relate with God?  where those we look down upon are actually the ones we will be looking up to?  these very notions go against how the kingdoms of our world operate (and it’s not a very good track record i might add).  maybe this gives us a sign that it’s origin is not of this world.   maybe this is why we have so much difficulty in seeing the Kingdom of God.  we’re not even looking in the right places.  our lenses are totally broken.  then maybe, after all, this is the good news that we’ve been looking for all our lives.  

 

in conclusion, what does the Kingdom of God look like and what makes it so good?

the Kingdom of God is the most valuable, eternal, powerful, good, growing, mysterious, and upside-down thing you can give yourself to.  

Every Tribe and Tongue…

This past month each of our discipleship school students stepped out of fear and into taking risks with and for the Lord to love others.  

There was so much that our Lord showed us on our week long mission trip last week but, for me, there is one lesson that sticks out: EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute in reaching out to others.  

Our first outreach in Santiago, Dominican Republic was at Leon Jimenez Park.  The outreach small group that I was made in was made up of me, Obadiah* (son of the lead pastor at New Life Church in Lincoln Heights), Anita* from Hope Church (in East LA), Enrique’s (son of the lead pastor at Hope Church) 6 year old son Isais*, and Jonas* a Haitian brother in the Lord from Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural (the host church that led us during our week stay in the DR).

At the park, we came across this young couple that seemed to be having a date.  The woman was a Venezuelan and the man was Dominican and French.  We asked about the young woman about the crisis happening in Venezuela and could tell she was sad with her family still there. Jonas preached and prayed for her to find the hope of God to be lifted up as well as to lift up her town and country.  I got a sense from God for the man that God wanted to fill him up with God’s oil so his light would not go out.  Up to this point the man didn’t really seem that interested but he perked up as Josiah translated some of the words of the image I got into Spanish and asked “How do I get this oil?”  Anitia jumped in to share her story of how she learned that she needed her own personal relationship with Jesus instead of just going to church with her mom.  Isais shared that in prayer he saw a tree made out of the number 3.  The man shared that his favorite number was 3.  This young couple was touched to know that God saw them and knew them.  

But for this moment of the Kingdom of God to break through, it took everyone to contribute: a Japanese-American man, a half-Caucasian half-Chinese teenage boy, a Salvadorian woman, and a half-Caucasian half-Mexican 6-year-old, and a young Haitian man living in the DR to all work together in Jesus.

It was a beautiful glimpse of heaven, where every tongue and tribe will be lifting up Jesus together.  So you see, EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute.  

We don’t need to wait till we get there…may we practice that good of eternity today.  

 

unity-hands1

*names changed for privacy 

Our sister church that hosted us in the Dominican Republic is doing such amazing work in their community.  One of which is their building of community center (we got to pray at the site of the foundation that is already being built) which will provide a place for a school for the many Haitian children who are not allowed in public schools in the DR!  Please consider investing in the Kingdom of God in this way!  

I pray that we all follow Jesus into putting ourselves out there this day with His love.

From Chola to Christ

i realize a lot of my posts on this blog have been theological in nature, especially as of late.  I do see the great need for more holistic theology but i also realize there is a need for more concrete examples of what that theology looks like played out in the lives of real people around me.  in my study of the Kingdom of God, i see that in scripture there is not only a proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God but a demonstration of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  the world is hungry not for more people who “talk the talk” but for more of those who “walk the walk.”  

one thing i have learned by living amongst the urban poor in LA is the power of stories to draw people into an experience of a truth. it is something that those of us who are “educated” or from a middle or upper class background can come to underestimate when we are too much in our own heads, experiences, and theories.  with this in mind, moving forward and as i am able, i hope to share more stories of God working in and through the “least of these.”  or, if you will, for these truths of God’s kingdom to “take on flesh” (adapted some from the monthly updates i send to my supporters.  feel free to email me at david dot kitani at servantpartners dot org if you’d like to receive these monthly updates).  with that said, i’d like to share with you a story of a sister in Jesus from “the hood” that i’ve gotten the pleasure to get to know more through the discipleship school that i help run at our church.  she inspires and challenges me in fresh way.  

ls

 

irene* was basically raised by the streets of los angeles. she was a hardcore “chola” gangster that has been notorious in our neighborhood.  she has been in and out of prison and has had multiple near death experiences.  she swears like a sailor, she’s straight up, and she is known to instill fear in people (and strangely enough she’s found my wife to be a kindred spirit ;).  but God’s hand is on her life.  she’s been wanting to join our discipleship school for a while.  we had our reservations but it was clear God was directing her this way.  

and it’s been amazing.  

she’s talked about Jesus to friends and family a lot before but now she is starting to submit her life to Jesus’ Lordship.  people are noticing.  in the middle of a family birthday party her hardened adult niece, struggling with leukemia, challenged irene to pray her.  irene reluctantly did.  then irene “got touched” (her word for crying when she feels the presence of God, because she rarely allows herself tenderness) and her niece was moved.  so moved that she dragged irene to pray for her mom too.

irene was baptized this past april along with her daughter who has been moved by the change she sees in mom.  irene, me, the rest of the d-school, and some of our children are going to head to the dominican republic to our sister church there (the same one we went to last year) to see and participate in His Kingdom come across the sea in a couple weeks from 6/16-6/23/17.  we need to raise $31,000 as a team of 21 people.  

once irene heard the challenge for us to fundraise for the mission trip (and in her case not just for her but for two of her own children she is bringing along), this former gang member stepped out with incredible faith.  she randomly asks folks that she comes across to “sponsor” her mission trip…she’s gotten donations from her husband’s supervisor, the pest control man in her building, and even a random person from georgia that she emailed through craigslist (please, i didn’t tell students to do this)!  last week she asked her insurance agent to support the mission trip and he broke down and asked for prayer for his twin brother (who was standing right next to him) who is going through health issues.  she prayed for them right there in the office.

this past tuesday we went out in the neighborhood to offer to pray for folks at a local park.  she challenged me with her boldness to offer to pray for people and even reminded me to “go for it” when i was hesitant in approaching some.  through our time praying for people together a women felt the “warmth” of God as irene prayed for her breathing issues and another woman was completely healed of knee pain from her chemotherapy (from pain level 8 to 0!).  this woman was so shocked and full of joy as she was moving her leg back and forth.  irene found herself hugging these strangers, something she would never have done before!

irene’s faith, and folks such as these in our working class community, puts me to shame.  irene not only knows the King but is now submitting herself to His Kingdom…and its awe-inspiring!  

 

if you want to join in on this work God is doing in and through the urban poor donate here toward their mission trip and don’t miss out on the Kingdom breaking through right in our midst!

 

*name changed to protect privacy

The Good News of the King AND the Kingdom (or “Why Do We Need Kingdom Theology?”)

kingdom

breaking news. fake news.  lots of bad news.  we are bombarded with news so much that we’ve almost become desensitized to it and are unable to let it sink in.  in the midst of all the news where is the good news?  i mean, really good news that gives us hope and really lasts?   

i believe there is good news for us that is eternal: good news of a King AND a Kingdom that does real good in our lives, even now…not just in some distant future.  

this good news is the news that the God of all life saw our situation and stepped into our world as a human named Jesus Christ, not only to save us but to unite himself to us in order to show us how to truly live and transform the world around us.    

but wait a minute, this sounds like christianity.  aren’t these the hypocritical folks who are just like the world, sometimes worse? aren’t these the folks that are so “heavenly minded they aren’t any earthly good”?  

first off, sadly, i confess, we deserve much of that scorn.  i am sorry on behalf of the american christian church (of which i am a part).  this is not people pleasing.  i think christians (or at least those who call themselves such) have actually done some real bad (most recently in turning a blind eye or even supporting politicians and policies that take from the least, the last, and the lost in our society in order to privilege the prosperous, the powerful, and the prideful).  i think there’s a reason why christians have gotten to this place of such a bad reputation.  i think at least one reason is incomplete theology (literally the study of God).  

let me explain.

our american theology has focused on Christ for our personal salvation and sexuality but at the expense of the effect Christ should have in and beyond our own lives.  in other words, paraphrasing from james chong, a theology of the good news that is focused merely on decision, individuals, and an afterlife as opposed to transformation, community, and kingdom life.  to put it most simply we’ve focused on the King (the identity of Jesus who saves individuals) at the expense of the Kingdom (the reign and impact of Jesus upon the world).   

the american church (or at least in circles i’m connected to) loves the word “gospel” (good news).  it’s good.  it’s rich.  but it has developed some blind spots.        

namely, on how the Kingdom of God informs the good news.  the Kingdom of God is not a term that some folks just happened to pick up as a fad.  it is found all throughout scripture from OT (“Kingdom” and “God” are used together at least 27x) to NT (“Kingdom” and God are used together at least 67x….and yes, even in the epistles).  

and there is an intimate relationship between the word gospel (euaggelion/euaggelizo in the original greek) and the Kingdom (basileia in the original greek).  they are used together at least 9x in the NT.    

  • Jesus proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” or preached the “good news of the kingdom” throughout His ministry here on earth (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 8:1, Luke 16:16).  in fact Jesus says “I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43), and that the end will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Matthew 24:14).  
  • when Jesus, sends out his 12 disciples on their first mission trip guess what he sends them out to do?  “[H]e sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2).  a couple verses later it says they obeyed Jesus and “they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:6).  this is a particularly interesting passage because we see that the “kingdom of God” and the “gospel” are paralleled in v. 2 and v. 6, and used interchangeably.  
  • Acts 8:12 fleshes out the key components of the gospel most explicitly when it reports a disciple beyond the 12 disciples (read beyond those holy gurus to everyday servants) reaching out to people beyond the jewish nation (read beyond just american citizens of the dominant in-group): But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God AND* the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (*emphasis added)

alright, so what’s your point?

my point is any scripturally honest discussion of the gospel or good news of Jesus CANNOT be separated from the Kingdom of God.  

this is so significant because if we don’t hold both together there can be grave consequences.  

  • if we only hold onto the identity of Jesus but neglect the rule of Jesus on and through our lives, the faith of Christians can just become easy “believism” of mental assent to some truths but no actionable change in our lives or the world around us.  in this kind of view it is easy for Jesus to just be about me and my own but not for my neighbor and “the other”.  this leads to the deadly poison of tribalism and comfortable cultural christianity.  this makes a person’s faith even less than demons who know who Jesus is, often better than us, but do not live lives of obedience to him and his work in the world.  this is Jesus as Savior but not as Lord.  
  • on the other hand, if we only hold onto the teachings of Jesus (which we are notoriously near-sighted with) but do not continue to hold onto the person of Jesus, the faith of Christians becomes rather a faith in ourselves and setting ourselves up to be God, often putting ourselves in the place of arbiter of what teachings of Jesus we want to hold onto and which we will conveniently move aside.  in this kind of view we more readily come to believe the ends justify the means and so what we think is our righteous indignation may end up just being indignation.  this makes it easier for us to write people off as “ignorant bigots” or “coddled snowflakes” rather than as people made in the image of God.  this leaves no room for the grace of Jesus that empowers our lives and enfolds others in but is rather a recipe for legalism, judgmentalism, and burnout.  we need Jesus just as much as anyone else.  this is Jesus as Lord but not as Savior.    

the result of these gaps in our theology is what i believe we are now seeing playing out in america amongst so many who claim to be christian.  

and it’s a terrible witness to the world.    

by no means am i exempting myself from this warning and so i need Jesus and all of you Jesus followers to help keep me in check that i don’t let go of either Jesus as our Savior or Lord.

the good news is not just about the person of Jesus but what the reign of Jesus looks like breaking into our real world (for more on that stay tuned).   

the good news is that the King AND His Kingdom are here.  let’s join in!    

To My Sons On Their 5th and 3rd Birthdays

fishys

AMOS

Happy be-lated 5th birthday my first born!  You are so peculiar in your interests, but that’s what makes you, you (and more interesting, as your mommy would say).  You’ve moved on from your love of cactus and mannequins to an obsession with sweets and baked goods.

  • You eat them with such relish (one of my top highlights with you that I can remember is when you came with me to “help” me shop at Costco and I got you that frozen yogurt swirl for us to “share” that you love and you would keep smiling so deeply as you shivered, made funny faces, and gorged yourself).
  • You would ask after every meal time if there would be any “special treats” (that your mom and I try to limit to one serving every couple days).
  • You borrow dessert cook books en-masse from frequent trips to the library (and were so excited to discover that the adult section cookbooks had far superior pictures than then the children’s section).
  • You draw desserts with impressive design and detail and were even inspired to make a dessert cookbook by writing out the names of all your favorite dishes (brilliant move by mommy by the way to practice your letters).

I know it hasn’t been all sweet though.  I know we’ve been hard on you and Daddy has gotten so mad at you more times than I like to admit. To be honest it scares me how much the negative aspects of my relationship with my dad comes out.  It’s also scary and humbling to me to see how much you’re like me in my brokenness. I’m sorry Amos.  I hope you can forgive daddy.  I know you’re trying to listen and be a good brother.  I’m trying to learn to be a better daddy from our Heavenly Father.  I want to learn to be present to you, not just functional.  I want to learn to take time to enjoy the moment, not just impatiently wanting you to move on my timetable.

I love the silly faces you make and your intense funky dancing.  I love the way you take your time to wonder at the beautiful things in this world.  I love the way you notice the details in things that most people look right past.  I love you.

NATHAN

Happy early 3rd birthday my chubby cutie.   I am so blessed by your generous spirit and your smiling eyes (that you’ve inherited from your mommy).   Through you we’ve learned that each child is so different, even though I don’t think mommy and daddy have raised you any differently.  As opposed to Amos, who is into things that are still, you are all about movement.

  • You love dinosaurs, monster trucks, cars, planes, animals: in that order.
  • You are always busy talking about things that move, moving the things that move, moving around from toy to toy, from activity to activity.
  • You are a workout to dress and undress as you frequently just want to run around “may-ked” (aka naked) as you say.
  • Your nose is frequently flowing with some sort of ooze.
  • You carry around your muslin towel everywhere frequently stepping on it as you go.
  • You easily make friends and just as easily are fine without them

Mommy and I joke that you are 90% joy and 10% rage (which we say comes from your mom).  When you get into one of your moods, usually if you are under-slept and often for the most ridiculous requests…like insisting that we read you a book WHILE you sit on the toilet, there is no consoling you.  We don’t give in but we let you chill out.  And then you’re back to your happy go lucky self.  My prayer for you is that you would learn to communicate what’s really going on for you beneath even what you are saying.

I love the way you freely and more easily adjust to your brother’s demands.  You are often the first to share.  I love the way you just light people up by just being you whether its singing ONE line of a Christmas song repeatedly in the middle of summer, or when you roar at people and are simultaneously afraid of the very things that roar, or when you wake up at the crack of dawn and tell me “Daddy, let’s wake up”, or when you just randomly come up and hug me and say “I love you Daddy”.  You are a precious gift from God that reminds me He just gives us joy whether we deserve it or not.

How Two Girls of Another Culture Became Like Daughters to Me

i got to know naomi* and her sister, mary*, since they came to our youth group years ago as middle schoolers.  naomi had a feistiness that covered up her deep insecurities.  mary was soft-spoken and terribly shy.  over the years of youth group meetings, retreats, outings, supporting their dance performances, car conversations driving to youth meetings and back home, they made their way into my heart and the hearts of all the youth leaders.  the faithfulness and courage that they’ve shown, each in their unique ways, have been such bright spots for us.  it has been a privilege to witness the deep love that Jesus has for them.  it has been amazing to see them come out of their shells to embrace Jesus and courageously shine His light to their friends.  because of them, our church youth group has more than doubled in size from when they first started coming to our church.  

they are now in their senior year of high school.  naomi is class president at her school and mary is one of the few teens my wife and I trust to be alone with our children.  needless to say I am so proud of them.  

they have become like daughters to me.  

they are undocumented immigrants.

naomi and mary were born in juarez, mexico, a place notorious for the disappearance and murder of women.  their father left them at a young age, other tragedies befell their siblings, and their mother sought work and a better life in the u.s. bringing them over with her.  but life in america was not easy.  naomi recounts

“I would watch my mom struggle and get angry. In her moods she would say ‘Estudia para no ser como yo.’ Which translates into ‘Study, so you won’t end up like me.’ That’s when I decided that her work would not be in vain, I would not embarrass her nor diminish her efforts.”

both naomi and mary have worked hard in school and have applied (and been accepted) to universities.  It breaks my heart to see the heightened fear they must now live in with the news of recent policies and practices of the immigration and customs enforcement, intensified under the current administration.   i can’t imagine how their mother is feeling right now.  

nevertheless, i know that, in Jesus, fear is not the end of the story.  

Jesus’ love drives out fear.  yes, we should do our part to educate ourselves and others on the issues.  yes, we should equip ourselves and our undocumented immigrant neighbors with resources to protect them.  but if i am to love them as my neighbors, as my daughters, as myself…it also means that i must walk with them in the love of Jesus, even if the path is now longer and scarier then we would prefer.  we do not fear for He is with us.

*names have been changed to protect identities