What I Learned from the Servant Partners Internship

This past month marked two years since my family moved to Lincoln Heights and the end of my internship with Servant Partners.  This month also marks the beginning of my role as a fundraised Full-time Staff with Servant Partners in Lincoln Heights as a Youth Pastor at Epicentre Community Church.

A lot has happened in the past two years…new home, new neighborhood, new church, new friends, a new family member, and new work to name a few.  The internship was an important part of this transition that really helped me to process the changes and some major paradigm shifts that are occurring in my life.  Here are a few of the things I have learned in the past two years with the internship.

1. God REALLY loves the poor.

I sort of knew this casually in my Christian upbringing but at best it was a minor chord…something for some Christians.  Through the in-depth inductive study of the Gospel of Luke in the first year, I began to see that God’s love for the poor was a major aspect of the mission of Jesus and the Kingdom He is bringing upon the earth.  Jesus was born into a poor family (Luke 2:24, Lev. 12:8), He affirmed that his ministry was to proclaim good news to the poor, (Luke 4:18, Isa 61:1) He preached a radical worldview in which the poor are blessed and the rich are distressed (Luke 6:20-26), He taught parables on the surprising destiny of the have and have nots (Luke 12:13-21, 14:15-24, 16:19-31), He challenged His followers constantly to be people who give ridiculously to those in need (Luke 6:30, 9:13, 10:25-37, 12:33, 14:13-14, 18:18-30), and He modeled the giving of everything…even his own life.

It is simply shocking if we actually consider applying what Jesus taught.  If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, loving the poor is not an option; it is a sign of our discipleship.  This sparked an examination of the rest of the scriptures for what God has to say about the poor and sure enough the centrality of God’s love for the marginalized is found in the law, the poetry, the wisdom literature, the prophets, the history of the early church, and even in the epistles of the church fathers.  The gospel is indeed the good news that God became poor so that we would experience the riches of Him.  My world is still being rocked by these revelations and, to be honest, I am still a little disturbed that I grew up in the church and this vein of God’s word had either been largely ignored or explained away.  I am in the process of being redeemed to His heart.

2. A Spirit-filled life is essential for work in the inner city…or any work of witness for that matter.

After eight years of working as a high school teacher in the inner city I was already reaching the limits of my ability.  The testimony of the life of Jesus and the early disciples affirmed what I was already experiencing for myself…any long term or lasting work amongst the needy must involve the Spirit of God.  John the Baptist was filled with the spirit from the womb, Jesus was filled with the Spirit before embarking upon his ministry years, and the apostles could not be his emboldened witnesses without being empowered by the Spirit.   In the second year of the internship we focused our inductive study upon the Book of Acts.  There is no escaping the fact that things happened when His people were filled with the Spirit…and when I say filled with the Spirit I don’t simply mean when someone has accepted the message of Jesus (i.e. all believers) as the testimonies make a distinction between a state of being a believer and that of being a believer filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31, 6:3, 8:11-17, 13:9).

I know that as a believer I have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-10) but I also know that I need to be filled with His Spirit (Galatians 5:16,25, 1 Thes. 5:19) .  There is a difference.   As I minister in the inner city I am coming up against issues and powers so much bigger than what I can handle (poverty, prostitution, addiction, disease, joblessness, gangs, violence, learning disabilities, academic failure, broken families, systemic injustice).  I need, we need, a power greater than ourselves for strength to persevere, for deliverance, and for true transformation in the face of what the world says is impossible.  “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

3. White people do things differently…and that’s okay.

Okay, obviously there are some generalizations here but knowledge of cultural patterns are helpful…some we can learn from and some need redeeming.  So moving into the inner city I was prepping myself for the culture shock of entering into the inner city…what I wasn’t prepared for was the culture shock of entering into my Servant Partners team.  Out of 8 of us in the original team God brought me to, 5 are Caucasian-American (as for the other three, there was me, a Japanese-American, 1 Nigeran-American, and 1 half Caucasian and half Chinese-American).  I didn’t realize how steeped my experience was in the Asian-American experience, and even minority experience (working and living amongst Blacks and Latinos) until I was faced with spending more time sharing life with White Americans then I ever had up to this point in my life (I know it’s strange for most of the U.S. but this is possible living in Los Angeles).

It was challenging to work through the differences racially and culturally (probably the two biggest differences were the ways younger people interact with older people and how decisions are made).  In most Asian cultures there is more of an emphasis on respect for elders and those in positions of authority.   In the white culture, at least in the group I was a part of, there is more of an emphasis on equal treatment regardless of age or position.  In the Asian culture, of how I was raised, decision are made more by the people who are in roles of authority.  In the white culture of our group decisions are made more by everyone weighing in on the decision no matter their role.  This is not to say that one way of life is better than the other but that there is a difference of approach culturally and one must learn to work together with those who may not share the same background as yourself.  I learned to roll with the group and the group learned to be flexible to my needs.  Racial reconciliation is tough but sharing life together helps to break down barriers and, in God, we can learn from one another’s perspectives.  We need each other to have a fuller picture of the Kingdom of God.

I’m sure there may be more lessons but those are the main ones that have surfaced thus far.  Thank you Servant Partners Internship Team Class of 2013 and a special thanks to Papa B-Rad and DGrootie.  And thank you God for leading me thus far.

SP team

4 thoughts on “What I Learned from the Servant Partners Internship”

  1. Hi David,

    My husband, Dennis, and I are also teachers in the inner-city. We work in Pomona and go to church with Derek and Lisa Engdahl. I just wanted to encourage you and let you know that you have encouraged me. Teaching has kicked the *#@! out of both of us. There have been moments when I wish we’d decided to do anything but teach. We know how hard it is. It’s hard even in nice, suburban schools. In the inner city, it’s combat. Denny is now teaching 8th grade math and I’ve become a language and speech specialist. We both continue to work in the lowest income schools. It’s Denny’s 16th year and my 8th year (not including all the years I was a sub, which almost killed me).
    All I can say is that we have continued completely on the back of God’s mercy. We are both low-energy people who tend towards depression, so it’s not like we’re these naturally energetic go-getters. I guess it’s a case the Lord using the weak to confound the strong. But here we are. We have two teenage children who went to the same schools in which we taught. That was a nice experience, except that they were the only white kids in their classes and often had a hard time. Now they’re almost going off to college and look back on their elementary school days as hard times that taught them to be strong. Again, God’s mercy.
    Well, I pray that this note finds you and your family well.
    Veronica

    1. Thank you for the encouragement! Wow wow we are just newbies compared to you all. Much respect to you for your faithfulness to the hard but so needed work of teaching (jr high math….wowow!)! Praise God for your faith to put your own children in the inner city schools…i know we could learn a thing or two from your family!

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