Making Dreams Real
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As you think about your participation in the body of Christ, what’s your biggest passion? We Christians in the North follow our cultural script too faithfully. At the most, some Christians talk about resisting the system, resisting the empire, but resisting takes us only so far and quickly turns us into mere reactionaries. As a Latin American, I find hope and inspiration in the autonomous social movements in the global South—the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) in Brazil, the Zapatista women in Chiapas, the indigenous movements in Bolivia. The people in these movements are not only dreaming new dreams; they are making those dreams into a new reality. Christians need to create contexts in which we live out the way of Jesus—physical places and relationships in which the story given to us by a market-driven, individualistic, racist, sexist system is challenged and subverted. My wife, Ricci, and I are blessed to be part of conversations with other young and old Christian radicals who are rewriting the story, conspiring, and living incarnationally. At Mustard Seed Associates, we feel driven to collaborate with others in the decolonization of our imagination.
How has your family background enriched your vocational journey? I was raised in a working barrio in the small town of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico. My father was a factory worker and my mother stayed at home to take care of the family. To me, they were the true new monastics, with rhythms of prayer, work (lots of it), and community.
What gives you hope? Easter. My daughter’s love for gardening. Our little community of the Mustard Seed House. Friendship with other young conspirators. Libraries. Autonomous social movements in the Global South. Street artists. Workers’ co-ops in Argentina. Potlucks. Horizontalismo. New Monastics. DIY culture.
Answering the Call to Compassion
Gloria Luna, 28
Director, Office of Social Advocacy, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Miami, Florida
Motivation. I have been passionate about peace and justice since I was a little girl. I was born in El Salvador and witnessed the atrocities of war there. God instilled in me a deep sense of the sanctity of life. There have been countless hard-working people in Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and Haiti whose drive to change the world inspires me. They struggle to make ends meet daily, yet keep working. Those folks feed my soul and keep me going. While the power of one is impressive, the power of community is awe-inspiring.
Challenge. Young people live in a “zero tolerance” culture: If you mess up, your mistakes are often held against you with little hope of reconciliation. This puts a lot of pressure on them. Many have grown up watching their parents struggle to make ends meet, remembering 9/11, experiencing the first and second Gulf wars, natural disasters, listening to talk of global warming, trying to make sense of schoolmates committing suicide. Because of these harsh realities, I believe that young Christians are answering the call to compassion and social justice. More and more, our office witnesses prayerful young people coming out to rallies and demonstrations.
Hope. Jesus’ life was about crossing borders and bringing loving compassion to the marginalized. In my work I get to witness the generosity and drive of Catholics in South Florida and all over the world.
Getting Down With God
Mariama White-Hammond, 29
Executive Director, Youth Worker, Community Organizer, Project HIP-HOP
Minister-in-Training at Bethel AME Church, Boston, Massachusetts
Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past—History, Organizing, and Power) uses “the study of hip-hop culture and the history of social movements [to] engage young people in critically analyzing the past and present so they can take action to make a better future.”
Worship. These days I am really excited about the way that the church is making room for new ways of worship. There are still those that think that hip-hop is demonic, as they did about rock and the bar tunes that are the foundations of some of our most popular hymns.
Challenge. Particularly around the environment or issues of war, it is clear to my generation that the way we are living is unsustainable. We see that consumption is not just killing our planet, but that it often creates emptiness. We want to be more connected to each other—that’s why we all live on Facebook. I think we basically always face the same problems: Can we shut up long enough to hear God? When God speaks, can we be obedient? Can we be loving enough to nonbelievers that they will ever believe that our God is love? We serve a God who parted the Red Sea, brought my ancestors out of slavery, and was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.
Journey. Growing up in a family that was pretty well-known, I told God that I wanted to be a “behind the scenes” person. Now that I have accepted my call to be a minister, it is often still a struggle for me to accept that I need to get down with God’s program.
Hope. During high school I wished I had been able to be part of the civil rights movement. That time has passed, but the issues have not. I believe that the young people I serve can and will start a new movement for change. So I want to be on their bandwagon.
Believing in Yourself
People’s journeys often follow a complicated path, which can include becoming an “emerging leader” much later in life. After serving almost two decades in Sing Sing prison, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and helped found the Rehabilitation Through Arts program, Mark Wallace is a youth worker, a mentor, and an example of the power of redemption.
Mark Wallace, 45
Facilitator for School Violence Prevention, K-12, Newburgh Enlarged City School District
Newburgh, New York
Passion. I am a mentor, counselor, group therapist in a classroom setting where young men and women can voice their concerns, their opinions. Whether it be racism, gender, community, policing, how they feel about school, their ambitions, their goals—you name it, we talk about it. To watch a young man or woman who may be anti-social, or act out—to see them, at the end of the school year, have this 180-degree turn: That’s the greatest reward I could receive, that I’ve helped affect someone’s life, put them on the right track.
Challenge. A lot of these kids in Newburgh, they don’t have anywhere to go. They come home from school and all they have is the block. When I was young you had Boys Clubs, you had the YMCA, you had Police Athletic Leagues. Sometimes saying, “I’m a Blood,” or a Crip, or MS-13, is saying that you are somebody, because a lot of the time they don’t feel like they’re anybody.
Journey. As a young man, I was enticed by the quick and fast life, and chose a path that was negative. I ended up going to prison, serving 18 years. Seeing what’s going on with these kids, I felt that my life could be an open book for them to read from. To help them bypass the potholes I fell into. A lot of these young men and women believe in these false gods. I ask them, “Where’s the ghetto?” And they’ll say, “where I live” or “the city,” and I tell them no—the ghetto is a state of mind. What you believe of yourself is what you’ll act out.
Faith. Faith is the foundation, the essence from which I exist. It’s knowing that all of us are intimately and intricately connected as a brotherhood, sisterhood. It’s knowing that service to my fellow human beings is the best service that one could ever do.
Enjoying the ‘In-Between’ Times
Dustin McBride, 23
Co-Founder and CEO, Acirfa, Zambia and San Diego, California
Acirfa works with its partner Zambikes to assemble and sell affordable high-quality bicycles in Zambia.
Challenge. Taking the words of Christ seriously is the challenge of our generation. Some of that stuff seriously messes you up. Love your enemies, blessed are the poor, how impossible it is for rich people to get into heaven, and what it means to seek first the kingdom of God—that’s seriously crazy. Trying to understand a culture that is completely different than my own is a big personal challenge. I make decisions that affect numbers of people, both Americans and Zambians.
Change. Certain things that our parents had no idea were even happening are now on our TV screens and computers daily. We, as a new generation, are tired of building bigger church buildings when we are called by God to look after the poor, the widows, the orphans, and those that suffer from injustice.
Hope. Building long-lasting relationships with our workers, friends, and family here in Zambia makes all the hard work worth it. Chrispan, Gift, Gershom, Mwewa, Sainet, Benjamin, Dennis, Patrick, and many more Zambians have shown me how a little opportunity can go a long way with passionate, driven Africans. It is the “in-between” moments—those in between all the grand achievements or major decisions—that are so moving and influential to me personally. Enjoy the “in-between” times.
Healing Body and Soul
Lyndsay Moseley, 29
Associate Representative for Faith Partnerships, Sierra Club
Passion. We live in the age of political polarization, religious caricatures, and superficial spin, where pundits pander to ratings rather than promote the common good. People of all faiths need to challenge these forces with unity and clarity. My biggest passion is bringing people together from different political and religious backgrounds, inviting us to see how much we have in common—especially as it relates to our dependence upon clean air, water, and a stable climate. As John Muir, founder of Sierra Club, said, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal body and soul alike.”
Challenge. At their root, environmental problems are matters of the heart. We need to respond with moral and spiritual strength to confront the greed, pride, fear, and endless consumerism that drive us to collectively destroy God’s creation at alarming rates. In a 1954 sermon, Martin Luther King Jr. made a profound statement that rings true today: “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius, we have failed to make it a brotherhood.” The biggest challenge facing the church today, in my mind, is closing this gap.
Hope. We will need to make significant lifestyle changes. But it’s not a journey of despair—we will discover a deep joy that comes from loving what God loves and caring for all that God declared “very good” from the beginning.
God for the Underdog
Ian Danley, 27
Youth Pastor and Community Organizer
Motivation. My folks chose to raise my sister and me in a poor urban community in Phoenix. It is difficult to live a life within a community that consistently gets the short straw and not see the injustice of it. I don’t think I am especially sensitive to suffering; I merely have had the blessing of plenty of exposure to it.
Passion. Reforming our national immigration policy is becoming central to my life’s mission and call. Too many innocent people are caught in the cogs of a punitive immigration system that is destroying our families, congregations, communities, and even economies. Some people call immigration reform a losing battle or the “third rail” of politics, but it seems to me those are the exact battles the church must engage in. Ours is a God for the underdog, for the loser, and God has an interesting knack for defying the odds.
Challenge. We don’t find the call for justice in scripture, it finds us—it is unavoidable. It is clear that this reconciliation of humanity to Jesus and to each other is the point of, rather than some addendum to, Jesus’ life and ministry. Being right is less important than being loving. I hope that one day my life will speak loud enough that it will be obvious God is real and doing a good work in my life and I won’t need too many words.
Hope. The high school students in my youth group are interested in living a life of meaning and finding their personal success in the achievements of their community. I don’t remember being that altruistic or caring at their age.
Doing the Extraordinary
Jena Nardella, 26
Executive Director, Blood:Water Mission
Blood:Water Mission, started by the band Jars of Clay, works for clean water and against AIDS in Africa.
Motivation. A billion people in the world lack access to clean water, and women and children are the ones who suffer the most from this reality. I think people can be paralyzed by the social injustices of the world and feel as though there is nothing that they can do. Ordinary people can do something extraordinary, if it is done with love, humility, and large doses of hope. We are not called to be heroes and we’re not called to save the world, but God has certainly equipped every individual with the ability to love people better than we do now.
Change. Most people in my generation have grown up believing that a Christian is defined by what he or she doesn’t do. We are beginning to understand that a Christian is better defined as someone who does certain behaviors that are reflective of love, mercy, justice, and compassion. We are free to live for ourselves, but living for something greater brings joy deeper than understanding.
Hope. After countless visits to African communities in the last four years, I have been on a roller coaster of extreme optimism and utter disillusionment. Poverty cannot be alleviated by charity. Charity cannot just be handouts of leftovers. And leftovers aren’t what the world needs. The challenges that accompany community development—politics, scarce resources, empty leadership, and histories of oppression—make hope feel weak sometimes. But I celebrate the small yet significant changes that come as a result of hard-working African communities and generous Americans.
Creating the Common Good
Lance Schmitz, 30
Minister of Social Justice, Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Passions. Food security and workers’ rights are my two big passions. Here in Oklahoma City we used to be a really strong labor community—and then with the outsourcing of jobs, workers’ rights have just fallen apart. Oklahoma legislators worked really hard to kill the working class. The other one is food security and insecurity. It’s a tragedy that we live in one of the richest places on earth and we still have people dying of hunger. But also there’s plenty of food for people around the world—we just can’t get it to them because of legislative reasons, tax reasons, tariff reasons. In Oklahoma City we lead the nation in obesity and in hunger—try to figure that one out! We’re here in the breadbasket.
Charity and Justice. We recently put together a panel discussion at our church on social justice, and a lot of people said, “Before, we just thought it was just some sort of liberal plot, but now we understand that it’s very much part of our faith tradition.” I use the analogy of two sides of the same coin—charity without justice is just sentimentality.
History. I’m the first person in my family to not grow up in poverty. My family were farmers. My grandmother grew up in a sod house; my grandfather was abandoned by his mother and lived in a boxcar. Those stories are definitely a part of who I am—solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.
Hope. Here in Oklahoma City, people from disparate backgrounds come together and work to try to create the common good. People that are so different—income level, race, sexual orientation, religious background—even though we may disagree about something else, we can get over ourselves and work together. That seems for me like a beautiful example of the biblical witness of working together for peace. We have a lot of fun. That’s for sure.
Rethinking the Norms
Geovanna Chávez-Huffman, 29
New Church Planter, Revolution
Director of Hispanic Ministries, Missouri Conference, United Methodist Church
Kansas City, Missouri
Revolution is a United Methodist faith community aiming to “rethink societal norms, remove barriers, and reshape the future of the world through worship, movement groups, and missions.”
What’s the biggest challenge you see facing young Christians now? Skepticism. I often meet people who readily profess not to believe in anything, or who question everything. These people often complain about the sad state of the world, yet are unwilling to commit to changing the course of things. It takes courage to believe, and even more courage to commit to a greater cause.
As you think about your work, what’s your biggest passion? I am passionate about leading people to discover God’s love. I am also committed to being an advocate for people whose voices are often ignored. Through my church, Revolution, I work with people from all walks of life, who have many questions about faith. Also, as director of Hispanic ministries, I am able to work directly with immigrant communities throughout Missouri.
What one thing would you most like to tell Christians? Rethink the norms, remove the dividing barriers, and reshape the future of the world!
What’s your biggest challenge personally? Time management. I have a 4-month-old and a full-time job. Every day flies by with many unaccomplished goals, but every day is also a miracle that I would not change for anything.