Tag Archives: lincoln heights

an interview of the kitanis in the inner city

it has been over two years now since ji and i decided to move into an inner city neighborhood of los angeles.  our friend, lauren, interviewed us about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what we’ve been learning.   check out the interview here.

check out lauren’s blog with a mission to reach people with God’s mission: http://www.aloveformissions.com/

the kitanis at a mini-birthday party for lil' amos at church.
the kitanis at a mini-birthday party for lil’ amos at church.

a life in transformation

“i’m gonna choke that motherf***in b***h!”  screamed a large young man as he came storming down the street from the building where our youth group was meeting.  he had overheard another young lady speaking about him and he began making threats.  much of the youth group just watched him explode.  another youth leader tried to speak with him but he just kept on walking.  i don’t know what came over me but i acted on the impulse to hug him as my heart broke watching this scene unfold.  he pushed me aside yelling “get the f*** offa me!”

 

he apologized to me and the youth leaders the next day but, needless to say, after this incident that happened about this time last year, the church leaders had to make the tough decision of banning him from youth group for a month.  this is when God opened the door for me to begin meeting up with him one-on-one.

 

this young man’s name is ese.  ese, has grown up in a notorious public housing project in our community.  he has struggled with abuse as a child, violence, substance abuse, his sexual orientation, sexual promiscuity, trouble with the law, and dropped out of high school a couple years ago.  he started going to our church a couple years ago as well but was unable to make it through a service, frequently getting into arguments with other people at church.  however, the youth leaders started focused praying for ese and he started to receive curious visions/dreams from God, that soon led to him accepting Jesus into his life.  since giving his life over to Jesus in the winter of 2012 it has been a privilege to witness the transformation of his life.

 

before he didn’t feel connected to God.  now he hears from Him regularly.
before he wouldn’t talk to Jesus.  now he talks to him in prayer…even for others.
before he could not sit through a sermon or bible study at church.  now he engages with the Word.
before he would get into damaging sexual relationships.  now he has been sexually sober for over a year.
before he would balk at the idea of speaking publicly before his peers.  now he has experienced publicly sharing a very personal poem on the mic to his peers.
before he would explode on people and get into fights.  now he has learned to walk away from such situations.
before he would not engage with peers his age.  now he attends our post high school bible study…and likes it.
before he would start arguments with people at church.  now he faithfully sets up and cleans up for church service every sunday, even becoming a set-up captain.

 

in fact, contrary to what anyone (even myself) would have believed, out of all my mentoring relationships this past year, ese has been the most faithful. ese still has a long way to go but i know that God is working in Him.  i have seen it with my very own eyes.  only God makes everything beautiful in His time.
ese

how you know God has shown up

it was about three weeks ago.  it seemed like any other Sunday going to church.

ji and I have been going to epicentre community church in lincoln heights for several months now.   it is a church that actually represents the community it is in.  a church of the city.  a church of the poor.  a church of the broken.  even though my family has moved in as outsiders, we have been welcomed as part of the church family and have been so blessed.  i am so encouraged every time i go.  we still receive so much more than we give.

but people still put on a nice face.  you know the face we put on everyday when we go out.  it’s not fake…it’s just acceptable.  not letting what’s inside show too much on the outside.

so during church service, we break into small groups to share out a bible study of a shared passage (one of the things i really LOVE about this church).  the passage is the one where Jesus is being beaten and mocked by a band of soldiers….but he doesn’t lash out…the soldiers get tired.   many people share out about how amazing it was how Jesus demonstrated such super-natural self-control in the face of such outright humiliation.  He took all the wickedness we could throw at Him…and He absorbed it…to demonstrate His love for us.

then the pastor invited us to stand and pour out all our junk to Him in prayer.

then it happened.  one person started confessing his sins in prayer to God…out loud.

in my head i was like: i think this guy misunderstood the directions.   we’re supposed to pray on our own, in our own minds to God.

then another man started admitting in prayer the ways he had failed God…again out loud.

uh-oh.

then one after another different people began confessing to God the messed up stuff in their lives…all aloud.  everyone could hear…the ways people let their anger get the best of them as they took it out on their own children, the ways they were holding onto things that were killing them, the ways they could not forgive, the ways they had thought life would be better without them, the ways they didn’t trust in God and had turned to other things.   the ways we need God to heal us of our brokenness.

i was just in silent awe.

God had shown up.

how else can i explain that, in the very place where most people expect the greatest hypocrisy, people were exposing the ugliest parts of themselves…people were being REAL…to a room full of people (many who they do not know)…of their own free will?

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.” – 1 Corinthians 4:5

2-29-12, 8am, Los Angeles from the Lincoln Heights.

2011 Reflections and 2012 Directions

2011 was a year of many transitions: work, church, home, community, family, and calling.  I resigned from my post as a teacher at Locke High School in South LA, a post that I’ve been in for 8 years, to currently substitute teaching.  We were commissioned out from West Los Angeles Holiness, a church that I attended since my freshman year of college nearly 14 years ago, to Epicentre Community Church in Lincoln Heights.  We moved from our honeymoon apt. in Monterey Park, which we lived in since Ji and I were married 2 and half years ago, to a rented home in Lincoln Heights.  We’re recalibrating from our familiar networks of support to a new network of support in the Servant Partners Intern Team and the Epicentre church family.  We’re getting ready to receive a new addition to our KitanJi family and grow into our new role as parents.  Last but not least, I sense the Lord leading me from lay ministry to full time ministry.

treevalleys on a mission in Lincoln Heights

 

Gustavo and I getting the room ready for little Amos

These past several months of starting into the internship can be summarized into three phrases: bewildering displacement, actual obedience, and providential provision.

bewildering displacement:  There were a number of things that were clear in making this big move into the city…but there were many things that weren’t.  I knew that God wanted us to make this integrated move into Lincoln Heights and enough of God’s values for loving the city to do it.  However there were many unknowns that we would and still have to navigate now that we’re here:  How do we reach out to our neighbors? What is our role in the church here as people from the outside?  How do I connect with my intern team – half of which live in another city and all of which are many years younger than me and from unfamiliar backgrounds to me?   What is the work that God wants me to do and the career he wants me to be in?  How will we raise a child in all of this uncertainty?  That last question is the scariest of all to me right now.  Yet, through all the unanswered questions, periods of unemployment, and my sinful escapism…God is still faithful and still challenges me with His heart.  This points to the next theme of this past quarter…

xmas presentation at the community church

 

actual obedience:  A major part of our first quarter in the internship has been an inductive study of the book of Luke.  It has been rocking my world.  We’re trying to study what Jesus was actually saying, how he actually ministered, how he actually lived, and how his priorities actually played out.  Jesus actually really loves the poor and broken…the marginalized.  How did I miss this in all my years as a “Christian” (follower of Christ)?  I have been unable to shake Luke ch. 6 (Jesus’ sermon on the plain expressing His values) and ch. 9 (Jesus’ identity revealed to the disciples and what it would cost to follow Him) from my life.  Specifically, the following verses have been really cutting and challenging to me:

 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” – Luke 6:32

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” – Luke 9:23

Will I actually obey?  I hope to, with God’s encouragement and power…which leads to the last theme…

some of the church family in Lincoln Heights

 

providential provision: God has given Ji and I so much assurance in making these moves, despite our shortcomings.  He has provided us with an amazing find of a home for ministry, He has provided us a great team with godly priorities to work with, He has provided us with a wonderful church family to embrace us (and thoughtful timing to the coming of our son), and He has provided so much of his wonderful promises for us to hold onto.  His commitment to care for the “nobodies” and to shepherd His people through His Body, a Body that He will never leave or forsake, gives us courage into the new year.

prayer requests:
1. that Ji and I will fight for and guard our times with the Lord for the empowering we need to follow Him, especially as we get ready to receive Amos into the world
2. that I will receive wisdom, direction, and confirmation from the Lord concerning full time ministry to the marginalized
3. that God will provide me a meaningful part time job until, God willing, I raise full time support
4. that Amos will grow well and strong in the fear and love of the Lord
5. that the church family of Lincoln Heights would step up to the challenges facing the community on their knees and with the rest of their bodies!

being stolen from and receiving a son

we had our first piece of property stolen from us about a week ago.  it was only a matter of time living here.  our neighbor actually had a rock (or something) thrown into their window a couple weeks ago.  as of today, the neighborhood we have moved into is ranked 45th highest in violent crime out of 209 neighborhoods in Los Angeles County (according to the searchable “neighborhood” section in the LA Times <about one of the only things that the paper’s got going for it>.  so the other evening i walked outside to water our front lawn and realized our hose was missing…as well as the reel container the hose was in…that was nailed into the ground.

after getting over our initial surprise…we, oddly enough, just laughed.  Ji figured if they went through all the trouble of getting the nail pegs out of the ground they probably needed it a lot more than we did.  it is such a minor thing in the scope of things.  we have so little to complain about living here.  it is so much nicer than we had imagined in our minds as we prepared for the move.  i mean there are differences here on our street that you would never find in a more well to do neighborhood such as: dog poo all over the grass, random trash strewn about on our lawn (including a pair of panties a couple weeks ago!), condoms on the sidewalk, etc.  yet, we are still relatively insulated on our street (which is a quiet little spot of newer immigrant asians) compared to the other stuff that happens in the neighborhood.  north of the main street, that cuts through the neighborhood, is generally a lot more dangerous.  my wife and I are really trying to learn to have a looser grip on our possessions.  stuff doesn’t last.  stuff can be replaced.  by the grace of God, we have enough means and are connected to people who have means…Ji’s mom bought us a new hose on a reel.   this is not a luxury most in the community have.

the very next day, after i happened upon being stolen from, we found out that the child growing within my wife is a boy!  my wife was just only about 15 weeks (almost 4 months) a week ago and i heard that people usually can’t find out the gender of their child until about the 5th month.  so the morning we went in for the second ultra sound, i just lifted up a little prayer that our developing child wouldn’t be too shy.  sure enough the little guy was showing us everything as he was squirming all around: his spine, his legs (spread eagle even…hence the gender discovery…hahha!), his heart, his head (which you can see below):

an eerie shot of our son as he was looking straight at us....that's his skull and eye sockets (to the left).

what an active helpful little guy.  it was so surreal to see him.  we’ve known about him for awhile now hidden in his mother’s belly but its a whole other experience to see life unfolding right before our eyes…so little but so many living moving details already…more real, tangible, and miraculous somehow even though its something very natural.  its like a peek into a world that is always there but normally invisible to the naked eye.  although i had a sweet spot for a daughter i see God’s wisdom in giving us a son.  we will learn so much.  Ji says she has no frame of reference for raising a son, as an only female child (and an avid watcher of gilmore girls…haha!).  it has really made me think more explicitly about what it means to be a man and what I want to pass down to my son…the sort of issues i don’t want him to inherit from me and the legacy i want to leave him.    it is as i am reminded by my wife, that he will catch from me not so much what i say is important, but what i actually am.  God grant us wisdom…grant us your indestructible life.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.” – Job 1:21

our home…

PHYSICAL

it has now been over a month since we’ve moved in to our new home in lincoln heights and let me just say…its been really nice.  we were supposed to move “down” but it seems we have moved “up”.   since my wife and i have decided to move into the inner city God’s unexpected blessings have been dropping down into our laps.  We were preparing ourselves to “slum it” a little and were open to wherever he opened the door in terms of housing.  but in our secret heart we had little things we wanted but aren’t necessarily things we need.  yet, this is the wonder of our God…he graces us with the little details we were afraid to even ask for.

on the FIRST day we had a little tour of the neighborhood by our new pastor, we found our new home. that day we were just thinking, “hey, we’re here so might as well look around.”  we saw this house for rent and the landlady really took a liking to us…she kept the place for us even when there were people willing to pay more and move in sooner than us!  the house is beautifully done, has two porches, has big rooms, has a wide living area, has a big kitchen, has fixtures for a washer / dryer (what a blessing!), and has a front and back yard…all for just a little more rent than we were paying for at our old apartment!  if we didn’t know already we are super blessed to have found a place like this…as many people who are already in the community have let us know.

its on a nice quiet block of a street that, just a couple blocks north, is also home to one of the most notorious drug gangs in the community…the difference of just a few blocks.  i water my lawn with roses and exchange friendly greetings with my neighbors…its so strange…and wonderful.  things God didn’t HAVE to give us…but He did.

with such a blessing we know we have a responsibility now to share that grace with members of the community.  God has provided us a home to invite others in to.

 this is my favorite view in our home.

RELATIONAL   

now a building itself does not make a home.  a home should be a place where you can relax and be free to be yourself.  now a person can be home alone and experience these things to a limited degree but an abode with no one else in it can not respond or share back with you.  so a home is also made up of the people in it.  through my recent readings of various words of mother teresa this is where we start with love.  indeed the early church fathers remind us that if people are not first ministering to those inside their house they are not fit to minister outside of their house.

God has truly blessed me with a home inside of my house in the person of my wife.  she sees and experiences the good and bad of me and still receives me.  this is not to say that she does not challenge me to be a better man, but that she gives me the safety and favor to work things out.  ultimately, she is on my team.  there are times when we will misunderstand one another and be unkind to one another but we are committed to working it out and grow as one.  in this relationship that makes this house a home, i find restoration and feedback.

SPIRITUAL

Yet, there is this sneaking suspicion that even this home falls short sometimes…this whisper that still longs for something more.  when we are sober minded and good to one another this place can be so restorative but when we are self minded and ungracious to one another this place can be poisonous.  in the busyness of life and all the worries of this world…sometimes the heart has no place to go and find rest.  still it looks for it.

when this place is nowhere to be found….and often we must be stripped of all options before we go there…we are forced to surrender to God – the only place we have left.  God has brought me there a couple times in the past month.  God in his love has worn me out to be still.  in this stillness, and only in this stillness, have i found the fullness of HIM to stop my searching…the unshakable peace.  Home.

where my wife and i will be for the next two years (or more)…

So, I have been working in the inner city of LA for 8 years now, as a high school teacher. What has brought me here and kept me here for this long is the conviction to serve the under-served in life – that there are unjust things in this world and as far as I am given the grace to do so, it is my duty as a human being to do something about that. It has been quite a journey…it has not been easy. In fact it has been consuming.

Nevertheless, especially this year, I have felt the limits of my work. There are still too many students who are fighting me and cursing me out as I try to help them in the classroom. I have talked with my co-workers about it too. We are pouring out so much of our time and lives, but are we really making a difference…an impact in the inner city? Of course people can say we are doing something (my school has undergone major transformation and has made great gains in test scores) and that the fruit of a teacher’s work is not seen until years later. But we are still so far behind. We are still losing students to the cycle of despair, drugs, violence, and the life of the streets.  Our young dads are still making children and leaving them unfathered. Our young students are still getting in trouble with the law. Our students’ families are still experiencing such brokenness and instabilty. I feel like we’re just putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Our young students need so much more. I want to do more. Yet, I still live in a different community and I still go to church in yet another community. About two years ago I also got married.  I want to start a family…which will have its own set of needs.

With all this brewing in my mind and heart I was seeking out something different, I just didn’t know what. Then a friend of ours studying educational leadership laid out a crazy idea: for inner-city schools to be changed, the middle class needs to move back into the inner city (not to gentrify but to share resources).  Sounded good…but insane. Would we send our own children to an inner-city school?  What is most important?  We started sharing this idea to our other friends.  It got us thinking.

Before we knew it, we were actually considering it, and praying about it. But we felt alone…and totally unprepared. Around February a friend of ours, who knew we were interested in urban service, invited us out to spot in LA’s Eastside where some one would be sharing about the work that he was a part of in that community.

We went. We saw. We heard. There was a team of people living, working, and serving…all in the same neighborhood. People in the community were being empowered and stepping up to make a difference…in ways that were not someone else’s agenda but were their very own convictions. Everything we were talking about was coming together right in front of us.

Now several months later, we have already found a new place to live in this community, we have let our church know that we are moving to a different church in this community, I have already put in my notice that I will not be returning next year to my school, and must now look for a new job near this community.

Here’s where we’re headed and why:

WHAT: I will begin a two-year unpaid internship which will basically be like a 2 year mission trip where my wife and I will have jobs in the community. The internship starts with a 3 week trip to an urban slum in the Philippines.

WHO: Servant Partners – a mission ministry with a focus on the urban poor of the world

WHERE: Lincoln Heights, in LA’s Eastside

– near where the 10 and 5 freeways meet, right behind the LA County / USC hospital

– it is among the lowest in median household incomes in LA city and county ($31,000)

– it is among the lowest in % of residents with a 4 yr degree in LA city and county (6%)

HOW:

1) we will be living in Lincoln Heights, with a team of at least 3 other interns

2) we will be attending a church in Lincoln Heights (a church plant of Servant Partners and Epicentre Pasadena called Epicentre Community Church *New Life Community Church as of fall of 2014)

3) we will be working in LA’s Eastside  (my wife will continue to work at Cal State LA as a professor / I need to find a job, one with a little less hours <would appreciate prayers, in this regard especially>, as I will also be taking classes twice a week to learn about urban poor ministry)

WHEN: Starting August 19th, 2011 (Philippines from 8/24-9/12) to Summer 2013

WHY (for the 2 years): We are hoping through this process, amongst many things, to

a) see if urban poor ministry is something for us

b) see if full time ministry is something for me

WHY (what God has been laying on our hearts through His Word):

1) Christ has led us to love the city: Loving Los Angeles (Jer 29:4-7)

2) Christ has led us to care for those in need: Social Justice (Isaiah 58, James 2:5-8)

3) Christ has led us to share our lives: Incarnation for understanding and discipleship (Heb 13:11-14)

HOW WE CAN PARTNER TOGETHER:

– my wife and I need to raise about $5600 (for the 3 week mission trip to the Philippines for my wife and I, as well as for my ministry education for the next 2 years)

if you’re led to give financially please make checks payable to “Servant Partners” with “Intern: Kitani” written in the memo line and send the check to: Servant Partners P.O. Box 3144, Pomona, CA 91769

– We need your prayers!! Also let us know how to pray for you!!

– Let’s keep in touch (updates, encouragements, and prayer requests)!

Email: dkitani at gmail dot com

Blog: (subscribe to this one!)

*updated 16.12.07