Category Archives: stories

what the Kingdom of God looks like in the flesh

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

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

heaven breaking though to earth…

DR view

two weeks ago a team of 25 others and i, from the inner city of LA’s eastside, went down to the dominican republic for about 9 days for a mission trip. we went in hopes of being used of God to bless others and see him at work in another country…and in turn, as it always turns out, we were blessed by the people we met there.

it was indeed an amazing time. the locals led us and we learned from them as we did various outreaches in neighborhoods in santiago.  we dug some trenches, listened to life stories, prayed for people, participated in healings & exorcisms, and shared Jesus. we met some brothers and sisters of our heart, even though not of our blood, and made eternal friends in Jesus.

one experience in particular comes to the forefront of my mind, especially relevant in light of the tragedies and tensions of our nation in this past week. at the mission house where we were staying there is a little haitian man who only speaks creole, named luis, that takes care of the house (to give you some background, the domincan republic is not a wealthy country as it is but it shares a border with haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. even with centuries of conflict between the two countries, many haitians have come to the DR seeking work to send money back to their families.  needless to say, there is much discrimination and oppression against this darker skinned marginalized people group).  luis only knew some words in spanish but would greet us every day with smiles as he closed the doors behind us and cleaned up after us.

our last night we had an amazing time of receiving words of blessing and prayer from the DR team.  as we were taking pictures with each other and saying our good-byes, luis hugged me…for a long time.  but it didn’t feel awkward.  then he moved into placing his hands on my chest and back and began praying for me in simple spanish….a language that is not native to either of us as i am a japanese-american man.  he was the last person to pray from me in the DR.  i who went to DR as the missionary, the pastor and literally the servant of the house we were staying at was praying for me.  yet, in his simple prayers the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully.  i felt in that moment that all else faded away, God was reminding me of the good that he is doing, and i felt like i was in the very loving arms of God as i was in the arms of this small haitian man that society thinks is worth nothing and no one would suspect would be a mighty vessel of God’s presence.

if i didn’t open up because this person was different than me, i would have completely missed what God had for me.  any difference between us whether it was what language we spoke, what race we were, or what social class either of us were did not separate us but rather highlighted the power of God that could bring us together in understanding and peace at that moment.  i sensed God telling me not to miss this moment as it is a piece of heaven happening right here on earth. only the Kingdom of God can break through ALL barriers of separation.  

Father, may Your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  

to my dear 24-year-old david (from 36-year-old david),

i know you’re in the midst of the hardest year of your life thus far.  it’s your first year of teaching…in the hood of south los angeles.  you probably don’t have much time to spare, so let’s just get right down to it.  

none of your friends or family, well meaning as they are, understand what you’re experiencing right now.  i do. because i’m you 12 years later.  your world is being turned upside down.  you’ve come from a quiet asian american middle class life.  and let’s be honest, nothing has really prepared you for this.  you are experiencing the brokenness of what poverty does to young hearts and minds on a daily basis; poverty that you didn’t even acknowledge existed right in your backyard.  you can’t escape it because it’s your job to face it and try to teach in the midst of it every day.  you are being smacked in the face with the reality that public education in the u.s. is neither equal nor fair…and most of society has turned it’s back on this corner of l.a. because it’s easier to ignore than to deal with.  you’ve never seen this sort of institutionalized dysfunction.  you’ve never experienced so much hate thrown at you.  you’ve never had to work to the point of exhaustion…not just physically but emotionally.

press in.

don’t escape.  i know it’s hard.  i know it’s hell.  but don’t give up.  these very years will be what builds in you a character of perseverance.  these very youth will be the ones that break your heart in the best kind of way to get you to really consider what matters to the heart of God.  but most of all these very experiences will be what opens your eyes to the fact that you desperately need God every day.    

press in.

yes, some of these students will ignore you, some of them will curse at you, some of them will even push you. consider that it’s not so much that they hate you personally but that they will project upon you all the pain and confusion they have experienced at the hands of adults that were supposed to care for them.  if you are going to follow your role model, Jesus, remember He loved those that didn’t love Him back well…and remember that is you, that is us.  

press in.

yes, i know you’re lonely and REALLY wish you had a girlfriend.  but think about it, is that really going to solve your problems?  if anything you’re either gonna escape HARD into this girl or you’re gonna treat her like crap because you’ve got nothing left to give or both.  no woman, no matter how awesome, is going to be in the classroom with you and give you what you need to stand in love and power in the midst of this.  only an infinite God can do that.  yes, a girlfriend’s nice (and yes she will come to you and you’ll marry her and she’ll be pretty rad) but now is not the time…there’s some inner growth in your relationship with Jesus that needs to happen before that or else you’re gonna wreck two people in the process.  and Lord knows we don’t need any more brokenness.

press in.

the work you’re doing now will prepare you for the work i’m doing now (aka the work you will be doing in the future).  this work you’re in now is going to lay the groundwork for and open doors that you’ve never even considered of God’s vision for justice; it will help you see the Word of God in a whole new light…even if i tried to explain it to you now i don’t think you’d understand or appreciate it without what you’re going to experience in the next couple of years.  with that said, i think there are a couple of things you could understand at this time.  

1) david, if you’re serious about disciple-making and leadership development you can’t do it remotely.  at least not effectively. Jesus spent TIME with his disciples and you can’t expect to walk with those you are leading if you don’t even live in the same neighborhood with them.  and that’s how leaders are developed…not just through teaching…it’s through living.  

2) lastly, you need a mentor if you’re going to mentor.  not just a mentor that reflects your experience.  have some humility to recognize you don’t know it all and you can’t do it by yourself.  you need a mentor who has experience loving and walking amongst the least of these, because that’s where you will find Jesus (Matthew 25:40).  sadly, there aren’t that many asian american men that are doing this work, so it’s not like you have a lot of choice…you’re gonna have to be mentored cross-race.  it’ll be awkward at first but don’t let your pride get in the way of your growth to learn from someone different than you.          

press in.  because Jesus did for you.  

a testimony of two Tavos

When I first met Tavito 4 years ago he was a junior higher who had only recently started to come to church with his family.   I remember how he’d share with me about getting teased about his belief in Jesus at school and struggled to forgive others that hurt him.  Even forgiving his father, Gustavo, who although had given his life to Jesus and was changing, Gus in his former life had hurt the family a lot with his anger.

Tavito (top row left) performing with his band
Tavito (top row left) performing with his band

I’ve gotten to know Tavito through youth group over the years and in this past year have had the privilege to mentor him. Even in the past year, I’ve been so encouraged by his faithfulness and growing courage to be more open about his faith and to care for others that are left out.  He has not only grown to forgive his father Gus but this past month they even got to minister together on a mission trip to Taxco, Mexico!   While they were there Gus sent me this message: “Tavito and I prayed for a blind woman and God healed her.”

God broke forth an amazing ministry of healing down in Mexico through members of our inner city church. Gus and Tavito shared how they’d be praying for people’s physical and emotional healing for hours. With the lady that was born blind they persevered in praying for her multiple times in one sitting and her healing progressed from seeing light to seeing her mother in front of her to seeing figures in the distance.  I challenged him to share with the youth group this past Wednesday about his experience.

Whereas a couple months ago I was concerned of Tavito’s distance from the youth group, he stepped in with God’s courage and shared with his peers (a big step for high schoolers who are so self conscious to what their peers think)!  Tavito is not yet some super experienced Christian guy but he’s opening to God’s grace working through him. I know that the teens seeing God touch one of their very own peers makes them long for more of Jesus.

After the youth group meeting Tavito, Phil (one of the local youth leaders I’m mentoring), and I talked about the spiritual atmosphere of the teen group, talked about the possibility of starting up a bible club at his school this fall of his senior year, and prayed for the youth of our community.  Tavito is not only acknowledging Jesus but is letting Him lead and thinking about the others Jesus wants to touch.  It was a beautiful moment I didn’t even imagine in my dreams.

God hears our prayers.  God is always at work.  There’s a harvest of the lost, the last, and the least that God still wants to reach.

i can be pretty blind

this past month my heart has been heavy as i’ve looked out and see many of the men in our community either not stepping into life or even stepping away from life. addiction. apathy. busyness. complacency. resignation. shame.   these are just a few of the reasons why people do not choose into Jesus. me included. and it’s not always “bad” things that keep us from him and the life he offers us every day. in fact we might be giving ourselves to good things…it’s just that it keep us from seeing what is best…Jesus. i’ve been trying to pour into and pray over the men God has entrusted to me and it’s been disheartening when i don’t see response and change. ministry in the “hood” takes even longer as we must work through the brokenness of not only people (ministers included!) but the brokenness of generations of unjust systems. i’ve been thinking to myself “Jesus, didn’t you promise that if we come to you rivers of living water would flow from within us?” why don’t I see this?”

i can be pretty blind.  Jesus has been opening my eyes these days though.

gus, my brother in Jesus, shared God’s word yesterday from john 4 and from the testimony of God in his life. before Jesus, gus used to be a very angry man…he has sent people to the hospital in blackouts of rage. he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. his marriage was on the rocks. he thought he was a lost cause.  but Jesus did not. like the samaritan woman at the well, Jesus reached out to gus. first in the form of his wife, isabel, who stood by him as he overcame addictions. then a handful of years ago Jesus himself met him. then the deeper healing began. gus had deep pain in his life. one in particular was from when his daughter was born prematurely at 6 months and passed away after only a couple hours in this world. he was angry at God. in a time of prayer a few years ago Jesus revealed to gus God’s perspective: his daughter had a collapsed lung and should not have been able to live at all. God gave gus the gift to meet her and hold her for a couple hours.

gus is not a perfect man but i was reminded today (thanks lucy!) that Jesus’ living water IS flowing out of men like him. gus is a guy i just want to be around. he is a model of perseverance. he has had excruciating pain in his back from a work injury for years. yet he stands in God’s strength. as he has difficulty sleeping he mediates on scripture.  he essentially remodeled our church building. the young men of the high school football team look to him for advice. this is a man who essentially prayed that God would send him to prison and took that opportunity to share Jesus with inmates.   after he shared the word of God and his testimony, more than i have seen in months, men were drawn to the living water and stepped into Jesus by asking for prayer.

Jesus is awesome because he restores.

thank you Jesus for restoring my sight.

Nathan Jin Kitani

you were supposed to be born in march like your dad and your older brother but you weren’t about to get your birthday lumped together with us, so as soon as midnight marked the passing of march into april you let your mother know you were ready to come out…pretty emphatically, actually.  within 30min of arriving at the hospital you surprised even the nurses when you started crowning before a doctor arrived or anyone could give your mom medicine to dull her pain.  she wasn’t sure if she could do it…but we prayed.  i’ve never seen your mother in so much physical pain before but thank you (and God) that you made it easier on your mom when you pretty much came out with only a couple pushes.

 

you entered into this world on 4/1/14 at 3:02am, on a late night with an unexpected but much needed spring rain, weighing in at 7 lbs 13 oz and 20.4 inches tall.   you were drinking mama’s milk within an hour of arriving.  right from the get go it seems you knew what you wanted and went straight for it.

 

so, as you know, a lot of people pull all sorts of pranks on your birthday.  in fact some people weren’t sure if your birth was a joke someone was pulling.  it seems like you tricked your parents really good because they got all relaxed when you gave your parents two false alarms in the earlier weeks before your birth.  i hope you don’t get discouraged if people don’t take your birthday seriously, because, son, your parents consider it a really significant day.  we are truly privileged to be your parents and excited to see your life unfold.   God makes every good and perfect gift…and He knows what He is doing.

 

in fact, did you know that’s what you first name means?  NATHAN means “gives” as in “he/she gives” or “God gives.”  your mom really loves your name as it’s the name of a really clever prophet in the bible (you should check out his story…not just because this prophet totally puts a guy with your dad’s name in his place) and wanted it for you very early on.  i wasn’t so sure because i had friends with sons named nathan and i wanted something more original.  but God woke me up early one morning to pray for you when you were still in the womb and that is the name He kept brining to mind.  later, i asked God what he wanted for you and i got this vision of an owl flying up into the sky then overlaid with gold on a coat of arms.  i asked God for an interpretation and this is the one i sensed i got: the owl meant that you would be wise and insightful (which reminded me of a word God gave to our friend gustavo, that you would be intelligent).  flying up meant that God will lift you up to interact with powerful people and powers.  gold meant that you would be honored in this role.

 

the coat of arms leads me to your middle name, JIN.  like your older brother, that name is a one syllable name that could work in japanese or korean, reflecting your mixed parentage.  there are different possible meanings for that name depending on the chinese characters you use to make that sound.  when we read “blade” as one possible meaning we laughed and mom said that’s the one that stuck out to her.  the more i thought about it, it seems fitting to the pointed nature of your arrival and even with nathan the prophet and his approach.  nathan was not a blunt instrument that just declared king david’s sin but was a blade that artfully and effectively cut to his heart.  with a story as a parable, nathan stirred up the king’s sense of justice and at the right time pointed to david’s culpability to deliver the conviction effectively, whereas with a blunt approach david may not have been able to objectively see the gravity of his sin and unjust act.

 

son, i pray that you would confront the powerful in an effective way, giving people the word they really need to hear from God.

nathan

 

“Here I will make a horn grow for David
    and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
I will clothe his enemies with shame,
    but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown.”

– Psalm 132:17-18 (the psalm God led us to and that we read together a couple hours after you were born)