Category Archives: reproduction

What Does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 5: It Starts Small

2015 spring retreat

our church spring retreat in 2015

Part 5 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”    

5 (of 7). It Starts Small

Like a mustard seed, the kingdom of God starts small but becomes great.  

I’ve had the privilege to join in on the Kingdom that is unfolding through the story of our church.  

It all started in late 2004, or more likely before that in a lot of other unseen ways, when Chris and his wife Maggie decided to move into an apartment in the working class neighborhood of Lincoln Heights.  God had given them a dream to see a thriving church in LA’s urban Eastside for and made-up of the working class community.  

Those early years were really rough as it was difficult to build trust with neighbors who were suspicious of these outsiders. Many small bible studies started and folded.  Chris was physically assaulted and struggled with depression.  Other outsiders from the community joined them as a team for periods at a time, praying with them for the community and spending time with people of the community.  

In the summer of 2006 a game of catch football started in the back alley of Chris’ apartment complex and it soon gave them and their team connection to a group of youth.  A youth group began with the leadership of another team member that came in, Ryan.  The vision for a community non-profit, In the City, was also born around this time, which is currently directed by an original team member, Jenny, who has been here the longest along with Chris and Maggie.  In the beginning of 2007 Chris was released by his supporting church to be full-time in the neighborhood for a church plant in the neighborhood.  The church started by meeting in the apartment carport with about 20 people.  

In the fall of 2007, Chris went to a Lincoln High School football game and encountered a woman from the community who was serving the hungry players dinner from her own paycheck.  This woman turned out to be Lucy, a key person of peace of the neighborhood.  She soon received Jesus and immediately started reaching out to the people in her life.  The church grew to nearly 40 people.  In the fall of 2009 two JV football players from Lincoln High, across the street from the apartment complex, joined the youth group and then invited two more friends.  Together these high schoolers grew in Jesus and in leadership, bringing vital energy to the youth group.  By the beginning of 2010 this church had to begin renting space from a local elementary school.  

In the fall of 2010 Chris met Isabel and Gus.  Isabel had been crying out for someone to explain the bible to her.  Gus wanted nothing to do with the church.  But nevertheless they eventually went and were transformed and grew into sobriety from substance abuse.  They reached out to their network of friends about the Kingdom of God.  By 2011 the church had grown to nearly 70 people and moved to meeting at a local middle school.  

In 2013, Chris’ family returned from a year long sabbatical in which they experienced a breakthrough in healing ministry in Mexico.  Healings started to break forth in greater ways in the church.  By the end of 2013 the church moved into a new building that is on the main thoroughfare of the community on Broadway.  

In 2014 an East LA church plant was commissioned out from our church and the elder team of our church had its first locally raised leadership.  Now in 2017, our church has more local leaders now than “relocator” leaders.  And these local leaders are now discipling others.  The average Sunday attendance is 80 people and at least 120 are weekly connected to the life of the church. We are more connected to community organizing in the neighborhood than ever before, weighing in on affordable housing and community peace coalitions.  There are so many more unnamed people and untold stories that have made up this larger story.  

Sometimes the works of the Kingdom of God seem small, fruitless, hard, long, and not worth all the pain.  But without those small and seemingly insignificant encounters, decisions, and sacrifices we would not be where we are now.  We know God is far from finished with the dreams He has for this community and its impact well beyond its borders.  

In the midst of the labor, let us bear in mind that the Kingdom of God may start small but it always becomes greater.  

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What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like (in Real Life)? PART 4: It Is Good

Galvans&Mathiesons

(from L to R: Gus, Dorothy, George, and Isabel)

Part 4 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”    

4. (of 7) It is Good

Again, i don’t mean good in the sense that it makes everyone feel nice but good in the sense that the Kingdom of God does right.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood in her song to the good King that His Kingdom lifts up the lowly and brings low the lofty (Luke 1:46-55)

It is indeed rare to see good in this broken world.  It is even more rare to meet someone who inhabits the goodness of His Kingdom.  

That is why I have been blessed to have met a woman by the name of Dorothy Mathieson.  We received word that she is dying of cancer and it’s only a matter of days left of her life here on this earth.  Dorothy is a sweet old self-deprecating Australian woman, and she has become like an abuela to many in our community, even though we only spent a short time with her.  

Australia!?!  Yup, that’s right. That’s the kind of influence this woman’s life has.  

Dorothy is so humble it took some work to find out more about her life.  She is so ready to listen to others, shares their stories, and empower them in God’s presence that it’s easy to forget to ask about hers.  Dorothy gave at least 40 years of her life to God’s work: decades in the slums of Manila, Philippines.  Then with international students from countries that want to kill Christians, and then with overburdened and worn out pastors. She was single for much of her life but later in life she met George who had the same heart as her.  She went back to school and, together with George, that’s where she sharpened how to practice the presence of Jesus and hold on to Him through all manner of pain and trauma.  And then she turned around and gave away what she learned.  Through it all she NEVER gave up on Jesus.  

On top of this she was one of the sweetest and most joyful women you’d ever meet, that you’d never know all that she had been through.  She’d seen so much pain and injustice she should have been a bitter old person.  Yet, she chose to let the Prince of Peace rule her.

She taught us how to hold onto Jesus, like koalas from Australia.  She has been instrumental in bringing many key folks in our church community into the presence of Jesus for significant inner healing.  Her ministry has deeply changed the way i mentor, counsel, and disciple people.  She called us in LA’s Eastside, rascals though we are, some of her favorite people.  And made it a point to drop by on her occasional visits to California.  

Anyone that’s met her wants to be like her when they grow older.  I want to be like her when I grow older.  

THAT is what a life immersed in the goodness of the King and the Kingdom looks like. THAT is what it looks like to finish well.  THAT is a life that held onto God’s Kingdom and it made ALL the difference.

Will we walk in the goodness of the Kingdom?  

What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 3: It Comes With Power

youth group

(our youth group at a winter camp in 1994)

Part 3 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”    

#3. (of 7) It is Accompanied by Supernatural Power

The first time I, that I am aware of, encountered supernatural power was near the end of my middle school years.  One night I had a bunch of my good guy friends, that were also part of our church’s youth group, sleepover my house.  It was a good time full of jokes, farts, and late night confessions of secret crushes.  The next morning we all slowly woke up, except for one of my friends.  We thought it would be funny to pull a prank on him to wake him up by throwing him into our bathroom tub and blasting him with a shower-head of water.  

He didn’t wake up.  

Our laughter soon turned to concern.  He was breathing and he showed no signs of sickness.  We tried to open his eyes, but his pupils would pull away from view.  Then this strange low growling and groaning started from this friend of ours.  Our concern turned to fear.  Soon we started yelling at him, slapping him in the face, and threatening for him to wake up and that it wasn’t funny, whatever joke he was trying to pull on us.  Our friend started pushing us off of him.  Now our friend was not a big guy by any means, but we couldn’t restrain him.  Even my older brother got involved, and he was a big guy.  My brother sat right on top of my friends chest demanding that he wake up.  My friend, even with his hands restrained by us the best we could, was starting to buck my brother off his chest.  And the strange mutterings continued from our friends mouth.  

Chaos was upon us.  

We were desperate and in way over our heads dealing with something none of us could explain but were sure was something ominous.  One of us called our youth pastor to come to my house in this time.  Our youth pastor arrived and with a couple words of rebuke to whatever was messing with our friend, the darkness was gone and our friend woke up.  

There was no joking or “A-Ha! I got you!” statements afterward.  Only the feeling that some kind of madness had passed, beyond our understanding.  Our youth pastor spoke to us about spiritual warfare in the Kingdom of God and how to deal with it.  Soon after our youth pastor started a bible study with us, and you better believe the word of God came alive to us like never before.  

 

Fast forward about 20 years later.  God was calling me to transition out of youth ministry into becoming an associate pastor of adults at our local community church.  Right around that time it was Thanksgiving season, two days before Thanksgiving to be exact.  I was with two of our church elders, Gus and his wife Isabel, finishing preparing some thanksgiving meals we were going to give away to folks in need in our community.  Gus was also there to prepare for the sermon he was going to give the coming Sunday.  As we were finishing up, Gus was complaining about a sudden cloudiness in his head and a weird sickness.  He felt he needed to lay down.  I asked him a little more about how he was feeling, learning by this time that God is the source of supernatural power even to physically heal.  Gus shared that this fog in his head was preventing him from preparing his sermon and that he had experienced this strange feeling before when he was around demonic elements on his mission trips abroad.  

Sensing spiritual attack, I called over Isabel to pray with me for Gus.  I prayed to God first for this sick feeling to be gone and to rebuke anything that was trying to mess with Gus.  Then Isabel prayed for Gus.  We checked in with Gus.  

The sick feeling was gone.

Gus shared with me that when I rebuked it in my prayer he felt something pulling his head and then when Isabel prayed he felt it break off fully.  We gave thanks to God for the miracle we had just witnessed.  Gus was then able to prepare his sermon.     

This last story is significant because Gus experienced healing from a physical ailment as well as deliverance from spiritual oppression.  God has power over ALL.  It reminds me that the physical and the spiritual are not completely separate.  We do not fight a battle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces at play in our midst (Ephesians 6:10-12).

God’s Kingdom is not merely about talk but it come comes with power (Mark 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:20).  

If we are people of the Kingdom of God, under submission to the King, we have authority over ALL darkness (Luke 9:1-2, Luke 10:19-20) because our King, Jesus, has authority and power over ALL things (Matthew 28:18).  

Let us walk in His power, not ours, as we step forward today.   That makes ALL the difference.  

What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)? Part 2: It is Eternal

Bgrandma

my grandmother, my mother, me (little guy on right), and my siblings.

 

Part 2 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?”:     

#2. (of 7) It is Eternal

The Kingdom of God is eternal.  And that eternity has already begun.  Because God’s Kingdom is eternal, and so conceivably also outside of our conception of time, it can be simultaneously now and not yet.  we know the Kingdom of God is not FULLY here yet (just the news from the past weekend would demonstrate that) but we also know that it is breaking through now in our midst.  

If we’re only focused on how it is not here yet fully then we may miss signs of how it actually is already being revealed here now.  

That’s some nice philosophizing Dave, but how do you know the Kingdom of God is actually eternal?  How do you know with certainty it will last, especially in the face of such evil we see these days?  

Well, I don’t know with 100% certainty (what do we actually?), but I think it’s reasonable for me to believe the Kingdom of God is eternal and cannot be destroyed…from my background and story as a Japanese-American living in the 21st century.  

If you know a little about the Japanese, you know they can be pretty intense, to put it mildly.

Over 400 years ago when organized Christianity first arrived on the shores of Japan, it was received with some curiosity.  But that didn’t last for long.  Under the Shogunate system (military dictatorship) of Japan, some of the most brutal repression and persecution of christians ever recorded in history took place.  One of the most feared forms of punishment for not renouncing faith in Jesus was to be crucified upside down into a pit of sewage and be cut behind the ears so that one would die slowly. The persecution was so intense that in about 30 years it ceased to exist publicly.  

Yet the Kingdom of God persisted in the form of hidden Christians (“kakure” Christians). the Shogunate government however did not.  It was replaced by a government with an emperor in the Meiji era which was then replaced by the Taisho era with a new emperor. As the country opened up from its isolationist policies, a new wave of Christian missionaries re-entered Japan.  

Japan, under the guise of the emperor, began to imitate the colonizing west and started amassing power beyond a national scale.  One country they occupied in the early 20th century was Korea, systematically attempting to wipe out their language, their culture, and their dignity by even forcing their women to become “comfort women” (aka sex slaves) for the Japanese troops.  Some Japanese Christians refused to submit to the radical nationalism that was sweeping Japan.  They were persecuted and imprisoned as a result.   

Yet, the Kingdom of God persisted in the form of a strong Korean church born out of oppression, which is now, arguably, one of the countries that sends the most missionaries abroad per capita.  The Kingdom of God persisted in the form of Japanese believers that became a “confessing church to resist nationalism like the Japanese Holiness Movement of Churches, which happens to be the church that my father, me, and my siblings came to faith in.  The Kingdom of God persisted over hate in the form of my marriage of reconciliation to an awesome Korean-American believer.  The Empire of Japan, however, did not last.  Since 1947 Japan has renounced the right to initiate any acts of war.  

On the other hand, in the U.S. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the empire of Japan an executive order was issued in 1942 by the acting American president that ordered the internment of anyone with Japanese ancestry living in the states, to live in camps of row houses in the deserted wastelands of the west.  The majority of these Japanese were American citizens, some even fighting for the U.S. that had interned their families.   There was no due process, no innocent till proven guilty.  In fact, no person of Japanese ancestry living in the U.S. was ever convicted of treason.  Homes, properties, businesses, churches, communities had to be abandoned with no rights of return.  Even after being fully segregated and released 4 years later with the end of the war, Japanese-American Christians had to suffer the indignity of not being allowed to have their churches back but told to go to white churches, these same churches that stood by and watched their own siblings in Christ be bused away.  

Yet the Kingdom of God persisted, as I grew up in a Japanese-American church.  I went to church alongside those who had been interned.  The Kingdom of God persisted in these Japanese-Americans who had been unjustly imprisoned.  They did not lose faith.  They loved me and taught me to keep on loving Jesus and to forgive those who had wronged them. They set me on a path to a better way.  The internment camps did not last.  The American government eventually apologized and made some reparation.  I pray such injustices never again happen in the United States to ANYONE and am so proud of my Japanese-American people who continue to fight for the rights of the immigrants on the margins.        

After the war, in Japan, my grandmother was invited to an event by a local neighbor.  My grandmother became a Christian.  My grandfather was furious.  He found her bible and tore it up.  

Yet, the kingdom of God of persisted in my grandmother.  She did not lose her faith but passed it on to her daughter, my mother.   My mother, was struck by her mother’s unwavering convictions and faithfulness in the face of persecution by my grandfather.  So when my mother was invited to a Christian event in college, in the midst of protests in the 60’s, she accepted Christ.  She came to the U.S. and met my father in church.  They  passed on the secret of the Kingdom to me.  Who knows how much I am sustained to this very moment by the faithful prayers of my mother?  I hope to pass on the Kingdom of God to my two sons, who now represent the 4th generation of faith in my family, even in the midst of uncertain times and circumstances.   My grandfather’s persecution did not last.  

The Kingdom of God, however, has lasted.  It has stood the test of humanity’s savage empires, repressions, violence, crucifixions, occupations, colonizations, sexual assaults, attempted genocides, imprisonments, prejudices, internments, and persecutions…and it will continue to.     

The Kingdom of God is indestructible.  

If you are of the Kingdom of God, you will persist.  

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

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

jesus-poverty