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.
to see poverty is one thing; it is a whole other thing to live in it. its been more than a week since i returned from a 3 week trip, living in a squatter community in the philippines. it was dubbed a “slum retreat”, kicking off the two-year urban poor internship i am now a part of, as a way to find out more about ourselves, the urban poor outside of the u.s., and ultimately about God. it was intense but also a paradoxically rich experience (in the non-monetary sense of course).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS (mostly taken from journal entry 8-25-11):
Botocan is a little barrio rectangle about 32 acres housing about 8000 people
poverty living conditions pretty surprising in its “slumness” like a flavela (of Brazil)
with makeshift looking houses very closely packed together
dogs, cats, (and) chickens in the streets
trash thrown about with no visible trashcans
pathways within community to get to our various homes like cutting through
alleyways and backyards but are public walkways
lots of children running around
air pollution from myriads of motorbike taxis, trash burning
lots of mini home-store-front shops
clothes hanging from windows over walls
tiny living areas visible from street, many packed w/ people
occasional animal feces on the ground
(roaches and rats scurrying about, even in the homes)
mostly concrete and sheet metal
8pm can hear people singing karaoke like its in the next room
random people trying to say hello, children touching, reaching out hands to you…
(*to think that there are many more in countries around the world that live in even more intense circumstances…with much less…it blows my mind.)
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF:
– if modern distractions are taken away (internet, facebook, movies, mp3s, etc.), I am more likely to spend time with God
– i realize i’ve come to feel entitled to respect (especially since for the past several years i’ve been in the position of a leader more than primarily a learner)…this is arrogance.
– i learn, understand, and care more about people by hearing their stories
– i like to talk a lot and I really do not need to do it so often, esp. when it takes away from allowing others to talk
– i do not take the time to actually get down to the root of the problem, especially if I know it makes others uncomfortable…so I am satisfied with surface compromise
– i am afraid of letting the people i lead make mistakes (which are such valuable opportunities to learn and grow). in leadership development / disciple-making i need to relinquish my control and create spaces for opportunities for others to lead, whether everything is all put together or not.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE POOR (where i stayed):
– they value people over productivity
– they are much more generous then those who have a lot to give
– they realize they are in need of God, without the distractions and delusions of having lots of stuff
– they do not have the luxury to hide their brokenness or joys so both are shared with great impact
(an example of the latter: less than two years ago Reymon’s life was transformed by God and is now a leader with vision -> Jio, a gang member, saw this and surrendered himself to God, leading his first bible study a couple weeks ago -> Allen saw Jio’s transformation and is now hungering for God, sensing God calling him to step up)
in essence they taught me the potential of what a community in Christ can share
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” – James 2:5
WHAT I LEARNED FROM/ABOUT GOD :
– he hears our prayers and would open the doors if we just asked
– he loves the poor (scripture, circumstances, and prayer walk reminders)
– he has woven together such unique stories in our lives on our journey with him
INCARNATION IS… a commitment to bring the life of God to an area of need by living amongst it
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
– 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%)
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)
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!)
learning to love holistically amongst the urban poor