Richmond justice program blog
Week 6: Culture Creators
July 18, 2018
This summer the interns have committed to being present in the Richmond community. We have sacrificed many of our daily treasures in order to follow through with this commitment. I personally think two of our biggest sacrifices have been to give up our access to technology (phones and computers) and give up our money (credit cards and cash). It’s been difficult in numerous ways but because of our sacrifices, we have grown closer together as interns and grown closer with the Richmond community in ways I doubt would have been possible if we were to all stare at our cell phones whenever we wanted.
I believe these are just some of the ways we are trying to create a culture which is God-centered. We are striving to follow the greatest commandments: love your God and love your neighbor. In doing so, we have to be aware of not only ourselves, but also the place around us. We discuss a lot about not only our own stories and journeys, but also the larger stories of Richmond and America. As God’s people, we strive to see how God has been working in the good and the bad of our stories and join him as he works to bring his kingdom here. By giving up our phones and money, we already got rid of two major idols which distract us from God and from each other. But more than that, we try to fill that time and space with ways to draw closer to God and serve our communities. Eventually we seek to bring phones and money (among other numerous things) back into our lives not to serve our own purposes but to serve God’s purposes. It’s a little weird because it sounds like this huge social and mental battle but practically, it’s making a bunch of small choices. It’s these little ways that we have learned to pick up our crosses daily as we follow Jesus into his kingdom.
- Krunal Patel, UVA '18
Week 5.5 : Mind Dump, I’m Becoming Undone
July 12, 2018
I’ve experienced a great deal since I’ve resided here in Richmond for the past five weeks, and I feel myself becoming more and more undone. Coming into this, I knew there was much work to be done within my own heart (as there always seems to be); although it feels like the more I work on myself, the more work seems to be gleaming at the horizon, more questions that need answering, more questions about my own identity, and more questions about the grand human narrative of our existence. This encompasses culture making, conquest, oppression, love, hate, and a churning tornado of other key concepts. It seems almost counterproductive in a way. I thought I was working toward something, being built up, a rapid incline of knowledge and understanding, but I’m only becoming unraveled--broken down. There’s a small voice that echoes in my mind and says this is what needs to be done, you must first be completely dismantled before you can be put together again. Another voice replies, Again? Were you ever together to begin with? I don’t think so. All this talk of the painfully masked narrative of Richmond that became the economic foundation of our country through slavery and how this became intertwined with white supremacy, assimilation, and exploitation of minorities almost feels above my ability to comprehend at some points; yet, it puts my own life into perspective.
Where do I fit in this story? How have I been affected by racial injustice? Have I been unintentionally assimilating into the dominant white American culture? Is this something to be shameful of? Should I begin exploring my own ethnicity as a black man and try to fit more into the picture that society paints of what blackness should look and sound like? Am I too far gone? What does God think about it? These are only a handful of the questions that seem to make me come undone.
Sometime during the beginning of the program, myself, my fellow interns the were all describing unique ways to individually love each other well during our time here. I decided to jump on the bandwagon of hugs while the opportunity presented itself. So far it has actually been pretty helpful. Although there is was one particular hug that I have received a couple times that seems to cause a different kind of response in me. This hug feels patriarchal...paternal, fatherly. I guess that's the best way I can describe it, and secretly I want it to linger on for eternity. It seems to be the most comforting of hugs and it triggers something within my heart. It's like a breath of fresh air and a weight lifted off my shoulder without words. (not to negate everyone else's much appreciated physical affection) *Gross Milo, get your life together my dude* Could this be from an absent Father in my own life? Have I really missed out on something? Is there something instinctive in me the still yearns for a lingering, fatherly embrace. Is it all just in my head? What has helped shape this part of my story to be the way that it is? These questions makes me come undone.
I was having lunch with two of my favorite CHAT kids this past week, (not that I have actual favorites), okay, I have actual favorites. ten year old Jasmine was telling me her story. She spoke of the various shelters she's had to live in and the uncertainty of her whereabouts once the CHAT program was over. She explained how she was often put in uncomfortable situations like having to share a room with complete strangers and how "gross" the food that was served was. She spoke of the "crackhouses" that surrounds where she is currently residing and how dangerous all the other surrounding neighborhoods are. Ten year old Xavier agreed in a childlike voice, "Mosby Court? Oh yeah, that's death, death, death! I hear gunshots there all the time. I wish we can live somewhere with peace." "Yeah, like the Blue Ridge Mountains or something", exclaimed Jasmine. I'm not sure if it was their circumstances or the innocence in their voices but I became a smidge more dismantled. I felt a small brick thrown at the fortified wall that guards my emotions. These kids' stories are actually not too far from my own, and maybe I've somehow managed to normalize my own experience. Is God trying to show me something? I may need to do so more digging. Please pray for me as I continue to unearth bits of dirt within my own story with what seems to be a small, metal spoon, the same spoon I'm using to serve the Church Hill community.
-Milo Miller, TCC ‘18
week 5: Hope in Jesus
July 11, 2018
This summer has certainly been a whirlwind. We have been given so much information on the many injustices that exist in this country and a lot of it is hard to digest and process. Sometimes, it is hard to find the ability to smile when I look at the kids I am serving because I know that the odds are against them. The systems are working against their success.
However, last week we studied Philippians 2, which gives a lot of hope to us by describing the nature of Jesus and who He is. The Son was willing to come down to earth and give up everything, including power to take on a human body with many imperfections. Not only that, he lived in poverty, among the weak and was considered weak Himself. Naturally, no one would ever think that someone like him would be the one who has come to save the world from sin. Despite all of that, Jesus conquered death and was exalted, glorifying the Father through his ultimate act of love and humility.
Like Him, we are called to love and live humbly, “[valuing] others are [ourselves]” and “looking to...the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Jesus never said it would be easy, but because He has paid the ultimate price, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39). Jesusl’ ultimate sacrifice allows us to serve and to follow in Jesus’ footsteps with hope. It may not look like it will get better, the injustices may appear to multiply, but He has finished it already. He has won the battle.
So now we are able to smile even though things get tough. Now, we have hope that things will get better. And understanding this allows me to smile at my kids because I trust that our Father has a plan for them, that He has created them with a purpose in mind. He calls them His, created them in His image. And now when they smile at me, I see Jesus smiling through them and I smile too.
- Evangeline Hsieh, W&M ’20
week 3.5: From Pinch Pots to vases
June 28, 2018
I arrived in Richmond for the Richmond Justice Program Internship about three weeks ago. I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that there were 10 other strangers (interns) that I would be doing life amongst and we would be serving the city of Richmond. I knew God had called me to this place for a reason, but I was having doubts about why I was there. I felt like I didn’t belong. For those of you who don’t know, I was born with Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. Cerebral Palsy has affected my legs and has caused me to be in a wheelchair. I felt like my disability would get in the way or I couldn’t fulfill the mission God called me to.
However, In the midst of my doubts, I immediately felt love from all the interns. The more I wasn’t afraid to press into community and we got to know each other, the more I felt like I belonged. While immersing myself in the city of Richmond, I also began to look around at the community in the East End where we’ve been working. I saw how deeply they pursued their love for God together. When one struggled, they all struggled. I saw how the Spirit led them in worship every Sunday despite the struggles they’ve been through and how they prayed for one another fervently. I started to realize this was more than a community, this was a family.
Everything I had been longing for was right in front of me- I just couldn’t see it. The interns loved me despite my disability and the challenges that came with it. They loved me the way God loved me and that made all the difference. I did belong in this internship. God did call me here. No, I was not qualified, but God doesn’t call the qualified he qualifies the called. And it’s not just that I need this community- not to brag, but this summer wouldn’t be the same without me. ;) Like it says in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, every part of the body is necessary.
I’m starting to look at community differently and I’m realizing that community isn’t perfect. That everyone in a community is vital. That no matter the role you play there’s no part that is greater and no part is less. All of me is accepted and all of me is valued.
In closing, I want to share a poem I wrote. It expresses the difficulty and joy of undergoing the transformation God is bringing about this summer:
Let me be clay in the midst of your hands
Move me, stretch me, please do what I can’t
Make me something you want me to be
And when things get hard
Lord, soften me
You are the potter and I am the clay
I give up control, Lord have your way
In the midst of your hands, I am renewed
For you are the God who makes all things new
From pinch pots to vases
you’ve been with me through all phases
There are cracks in your creation
But I am build on a firm foundation
You are refining me through the fire
Through the mud and through the mire
When you are finished I’ll be your masterpiece
Until then your works will not cease
Let me be clay in the midst of your hands
Move me, stretch me, please do what I can’t
- Miriam Washington, TCC
Week 3: Shalom
June 26, 2018
In a recent letter from a friend I was asked the question “what state of mind has occupied you most while being at RJP?” She then suggested some responses: Excitement? Curiosity? Anxiety? Anger at injustice? Each of these feelings have characterized my heart and mind at some point during these past few weeks. However, there was one word that I felt best described my overall feelings: peace.
Last night, we had the privilege of hearing from Gina Maio, former head of school at Church Hill Academy, on the topic of Shalom and the Kingdom of God. Not only does shalom describe a feeling of internal peace, but it also embodies external justice in society as people are brought into right relationships, wholeness and righteousness. I was struck by this idea and the way God desires for shalom to reign in this city and all of creation.
Despite the hard conversations we have had surrounding various issues like education injustice, broken health systems and the dark history of this city, I have found peace in the never-changing character of our God who is always good and always just. When the kids refuse to listen or stay in the room at camp, God is humbling me to call on Him as my deliverer from all trouble. As we have heard from numerous community members in both Church Hill and the Northside, I’ve been encouraged by the ways God is already actively using His people to bring about justice in this city. Being able to share my heart during one-on-one discipleship time and intentionally delighting in rest and the Lord every Sunday have made me more aware of who God is and who I am in relationship to Him. The interns and staff that God has purposefully surrounded me with have served as a constant source of joy while also teaching me as I see different aspects of God’s character reflected in each member of the group.
Timothy Keller describes shalom as the “complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension- physical, emotional, social and spiritual- because all relationships are perfect and filled with joy.” This is a beautiful picture of what our group is hoping God will bring to this city. Since being here, it has become so evident how desperately we need this shalom that comes from Christ. As we long for the truest shalom that is Jesus, I invite you to join us in this mission to build shalom through relationships with others while also watching for the ways God is offering you His gift of peace.
- Rachel Delaney, UVA '21
week 2.5: Such "Cute" Kids
June 23, 2018
There is a kid in my CHAT day camp huddle group who got upset with me today for using the word “cute” too frivolously. I’d told one huddle group member that her prayer jar looked “SO cute” only minutes after telling this particular child that his Noah’s ark model looked “super cute!” Instinctively, I defended myself with something along the lines of: “Everything is cute. God himself is cute and He created cute children like you so that you could create cute things like model arks and prayer jars!”
He rolled his eyes but I dug my heels in on my statement, and I’ve since been reflecting on a couple different definitions of the word:
1. Informal (originating from Acute)
Having or showing a perceptive understanding or insight: shrewd
2. Attractive in a pretty or endearing way
Yeah, I think God is pretty "cute". I think He has demonstrated His perceptive understanding and insight already this summer in His calling each of us (11 interns and 4 staff) into Richmond together to live, learn, serve, explore and grow closer to Him. He’s been shrewd in the ways He’s taught me more about Richmond in the past 2 weeks than I’d learned in the past 20 years, having grown up 25 minutes southwest of here. He is a really super ‘cute God; putting friends, neighbors, and heart-wrenching realities of injustices in our paths at precisely the moments we were aching to receive and address them.
And I think the second definition accurately embodies how God designed and created each one of us – each RJP intern, RUMI resident, Church Hill neighbor and CHAT kid… attractive because we are all His image bearers, of course, but especially endearing. Time here in Richmond thus far has challenged me not only in complex, intellectually stimulating ways (corporate repentance, dismantling systems, etc… kinds of ways), it’s also allowed me space to recognize cuteness in people often overlooked and circumstances often perceived as empty or hopeless.
Because what I’m realizing is that ‘cute’ actually is far too trite of a word to describe the beauty, vastness and wonder of the cross. I don’t even think there exists a word or combination of words to fully describe how awesome Jesus is and how clearly He is visible in this city, in this neighborhood, and in each cute little child He has us serving this summer.
-Jen Foliaco, UVA ‘19
WEEK 2: Love your Neighbor!
June 20, 2018
Even before I became a Christian I was familiar with this phrase. To me, it used to serve as a moral reminder of the importance of being compassionate, especially to people who are ostensibly different from me. But that only covers a part of its meaning. I like to tell myself that I love my neighbors well, but I also (erroneously) like to think of loving neighbors in its broadest terms. Don’t be prejudiced. Be caring to all. What God has been showing me in my time participating in the Richmond Justice Program is that this verse is not just an orientation: it is an invitation—or rather, a call to action—to build meaningful relationships across the lines that we ourselves have drawn.
I realize how obvious this sounds, but truthfully, I do struggle to put it into practice consistently. Most of the time, I would rather not initiate a greeting or a conversation with a stranger. Or with people I don’t know particularly well. Or, half the time, with people I know extremely well. However, with the encouragement and examples of my fellow interns and community members, I have started to see how active neighboring is not so daunting. Sometimes, neighboring is as simple as waving to the people sitting on their porches in Church Hill. Many other times, it means sharing meals and stories with our fellow Richmond Urban Ministry Institute residents, most of whom have spent time in prison but are now in the process of earning degrees and job searching. Neighboring can even take the form of prayer for a stranger on the spot, like when we didn’t have money to offer the homeless man who approached us, but who did allow us to pray for him right then and there.
These interactions begin small, and some will be with people who we won’t have the chance to pour into more deeply. Through God, though, and with time and intention, we do hope to cultivate meaningful relationships in the Richmond community that do justice to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
-Olivia Brashears, UVA ‘21
week 1: getting oriented
June 13, 2018
We arrived in Richmond on Wednesday, June 6th. The week passed by in a blur, but also feels as if we have been here for a month. Primarily, our time has consisted of learning about the history of Richmond and all of its secrets. The secret slave trade, the deliberate destruction of poor African-American communities, and the continued racism propagated by the Richmond government especially in the sphere of education were just some of the things we learned. On the flip side, we learned about all the ways God has continued to work in Richmond through incredible people like Benjamin Campbell, Pastor James Wilkins, and Pastor Don Coleman who have all sought Biblical justice through the power of Christ. Now, we are preparing for the bulk of our summer work by attending and taking part in CHAT orientation. In the days ahead, we will learn about how to work with the kids, both professionally and personally, as well as, begin to pray and dedicate them and their summer to the Lord.
-Cameron Woo, UVA '19
June 7, 2018
Friends, Family, Ministry Partners - we are so excited to keep you updated this summer on the Richmond Justice Program Blog. Each week a few of our interns will post here with stories and things about what they are experiencing. So far, we are all getting settled in to Richmond. Half of us are staying at the Richmond Urban Ministry Institute (RUMI) while the other half is living in a house in Church Hill (The Hill House). We are in the midst of our program orientation and interns will begin orientation at their work site, Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT), next week.
Please be praying for us this week as the interns process the history of Richmond, topics of justice and race, the new restrictions set on their life regarding money and technology, and the overall community being built here at the Richmond Justice Program.
We will update you with more next Wednesday!
-The Richmond Justice Program Staff Team
Lisa Keller, Connor Clark, Katie Yu, Katie Hazelton