conversations on the fringe



Dreamers: What’s Their Story?

Since I was 4 years old, I always knew that as soon as our whole family had visas, we would be getting on a plane to America from South Korea. We grew impatient as this process took so long, but we went on with our everyday life without much impact.

My friend Ryan (name changed for privacy) also waited 4 years to come to America, but his story is very different from mine. He lived in Guatemala during a civil war. People were tired of corrupt government and dreamt of a better life. His father was at risk of being forced to join the guerrilla. Wanting a better life for his family, he left his children and wife behind and headed for California looking to secure a safer and better future.

His wife eventually joined him while Ryan and his brother lived with their aunt. 4 years later, the family was reunited in Los Angeles. They knew that crossing the border with “coyote” smuggler was just as risky as staying in a non-progressive society where poverty, violence, and civil war was all they knew. However, the high risk of crossing the border at least came with the hope that if they made it, there could be better future. The family no longer had to live in the midst of civil war.

Ryan’s parents worked diligently to provide for the family. His mother cleaned houses all day, and his father worked in a factory. They were granted legal work permits, legal social security cards, and legal IDs. They both worked hard, paid their taxes, and did their best to be law-abiding citizens. The only thing that was missing was legal documentation to live in the United States… but once again, this was the better option than living back home.

Ryan and his brother were taught to study hard, get good grades, and go to college to secure brighter future. Ryan didn’t even realize that he was “illegal” until he was actually accepted to a Cal State University. When he went to enroll in University, he learned that without a green card, visa, nor birth certificate, he couldn’t get financial aid. Because the family couldn’t afford to pay for his tuition, Ryan made the decision to go into the workforce although his heart was for higher education. Ryan found a job in a charter school where he could live out his heart for mentoring teens.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), created in 2012 under Obama administration, allow people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study, and work in America. In order to apply, they must meet the following requirements: under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, came to the US while under the age of 16, have continuously resided in the US since June 15, 2007, be enrolled in school or have equivalent of a high school diploma, and never been convicted of a serious crime.

Those protected under DACA are known as “Dreamers.” Since DACA creation, nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants have been granted protection from deportation. And nearly 690,000 are currently enrolled in DACA. Current DACA recipients come from around the world, but more than nine-in-ten are from Latin America, and nearly half of current DACA recipients live in California (29%) and Texas (16%) (Pew Research). Under Trump administration, new applicants under will DACA will no longer be accepted, and their current permits will begin expiring March 2018. Unless Congress passes legislation allowing new immigration status, Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

DACA gives youngsters the opportunity to be known as “legal” residents, to continue on with higher education, and work towards a career. Most Dreamers are “givers, not takers.” Of course, in every population of people, there are bad apples in every barrel. But you can’t judge the whole barrel by few bad apples.

Most Dreamers love this country because they were given education, safety, security, and opportunities that their motherland couldn’t provide. They want brighter future for themselves and their families just like every other immigrant. They consider America to be their country as most of them grew up in the US from childhood.  

When I think about my friend Ryan, it pains me that he was robbed of opportunities that were granted to me. Both of our parents wanted better future for their children. Fortunately for me, we didn’t have to flee South Korea in a hurry. We could afford to stay as long as our paperwork came through.

However, for Ryan, his parents made the decision to flee Guatemala due to civil unrest even if it meant leaving illegally. Ryan and I both didn’t have much say in the matter. We followed our parents. We both studied hard in hopes of better education and opportunities that our parents wanted for us. We both lost our moms at a young age. We both had obstacles to overcome.

Fortunately for me, my legal status allowed me to chase after my dreams of going to a top university and following my passion in my vocation. For Ryan, all that came to a sudden halt. In the past 6 years I’ve known Ryan, he has always worked multiples jobs to support his family, especially his younger siblings after his mother’s passing. In addition, he found the time to mentor teens through his local church.

Ryan has impacted many young people that he has mentored over the years. And those of us that are blessed to call him a friend have been touched by his story and enriched by who he is. He was granted DACA, and he still dreams of going back to school one day.  

I asked Ryan, “How can we best support and advocate for Dreamers?” This was his answer:

“By exactly what you’re doing. Asking and getting to know someone’s story. I believe if you listen to life stories, you come to know an individual not by their label but by who they are: their character, their content, their humanity, and their heart. We’re not how many portray us. Dreamers are beautiful individuals who want to contribute to our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nation to be better and greater. Most of us pose no threat to our nation. We have a lot to offer… all we want is the opportunity to do so.”

Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

Safe Place To Talk Diversity

When I first immigrated to the US from South Korea at the age of 8, I went to go live with my grandparents in Olathe, Kansas. I was the first Asian kid in my elementary school, not to mention the first Korean. Back then, kids had never heard of Korea, and they kept asking me “where are you from again? You’re not Chinese? You’re not Japanese? Then what exactly are you?”

I actually got sick of kids asking me about Korea or where I was from, so in 6th grade, I asked my teacher if I could do a report on Korea so the kids can understand my country. To be honest, I don’t even know where I got the idea nor the confidence to even ask my teacher. Thankfully, Mrs. Ater agreed and I was allowed to share about Korea, the country, and its culture, to my class for the next 2 weeks.I’m forever grateful to Mrs. Ater for giving me the opportunity to help kids understand how I’m different from them, but it doesn’t make me different as a human being. Kids were more intrigued, and they asked lots, and I mean LOTS of questions. This helped them realize the value in different culture… and while I had assimilated into the western culture in a lot of ways, they also understood that we spoke Korean and ate Korean food when we were with family.

While some kids from other classes made fun of my small eyes, the kids in my class kept wanting to ask me more questions… one kid even asked me to teach him to write in Korean.In 9th grade, I was randomly selected from my school district to attend diversity camp in Los Angeles. The purpose of this camp was to open dialogue about our perception of different ethnicities and cultures and to better understand one another. Some exercises included jotting down all the stereotypes that are out there, and addressing each one which dug into the history of each culture. I didn’t know it at the time, but this camp taught us how to connect with people that are different from us. And we all left the camp with friends from different cultural backgrounds.

Neither of my above experiences included God’s design nor perception of diversity. However, I feel that the church should create safe space for these conversations to happen. What I have learned at a young age through some of these experiences is that people are more alike than different. We all have the need to be liked. We all have the need to be understood. We all have a history that has shaped us to be who we are. And we all hurt when we’re misunderstood or judged.I have also learned that many of us are curious. We have questions. And the unknown or unanswered questions often lead to fear, and we often jump to our own conclusions or judgment of others. However, there aren’t many platforms where people, especially youths, are allowed to ask and learn about one another.

In the church, we often talk about how we need to love everyone regardless of our differences. However, we often don’t hear of churches nor youth groups that provide a safe place for these conversations to take place. So where and how do we start?

One idea is to provide discussion with a panel consisting of different ethnicities. This can be a place where students can ask honest questions (anonymous questions allowed) about race, culture, and diversity. The panel can help students better understand people that come from different backgrounds. It’s important to establish a safe environment, letting students know that their questions won’t be judged. It’s not a place where anyone needs to feel offended, and allow everyone the benefit of a doubt. Allow the panel and students to express their feelings. Lastly, be sure to allow time to debrief what they have learned, and how this has changed their initial perceptions.

Another idea is to provide an event where students of different backgrounds can connect. Shared experience usually connects people. Whether it’s serving together or playing together (if it’s a team event such as laser tag, make sure the teams are racially mixed). If your youth group isn’t diverse, invite an ethnic or multi-ethnic neighboring church youth group for a joint-event. Allow time for students to converse. You could even have “get-to-know-you-better” games. Once again, be sure to debrief with your group on what they have learned.

We often talk about loving others that are different from us in our youth groups… give opportunities for students to experience and practice being with others different from them. And allow them to live out their faith and the Word of God right now!

14” For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”  ~Ephesians 2:14-16 (NLT)

Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN


Youth Ministry and the Problem of Shitholes

Today would have been the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 89th birthday.  On this day, as we approach the 50th year since he was assassinated, we celebrate the radical life and legacy of Dr. King – along with others who have and continue to work to dismantle systemic racism and fight for civil rights and justice.  And yet, as we celebrate how far we have come, we must acknowledge how much farther we have to go.

Just last week, on the eve before MLK weekend began, in a meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform, the President of the United States called El Salvador, Haiti, and other African countries “sh*tholes” and questioned why the U.S. needed more people from these countries rather than from places like Norway.

Let’s just be clear: it is downright racist for anyone to say and believe these things.  And it is inexcusable and incredibly dangerous for our country’s president to be the one to do so and for other national and religious leaders to remain silent or to downplay his beliefs and behaviors.

God created ALL humankind good and in God’s image. God created ALL nations good. There are no sh*thole countries.  And the United States is lucky to be made up of people from El Salvador, Haiti, and other countries in Africa, who have made this country a better place.

When we wonder if anything or anyone good can come out of that “sh*thole” continent, country, city, neighborhood, school, or whatever other place we label as inferior, let us just remember who Nathanael encountered after he said “Can anything good come out of (that sh*thole) Nazareth?” (John 1:43-51)

(I think it’s no coincidence that this just so happened to be yesterday’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading.)

Yet, Philip responded to Nathanael by extending him an invitation to open his eyes and his heart and to “come and see” for himself.  Building relationships with and learning about people and places that are different from us and from what we know help us begin to break down stereotypes and other barriers that cause misunderstanding, division, and hate.  As we see with Nathanael, once he started to build a relationship with Jesus, he began his journey toward his own transformation.

As youth ministers and youth workers, we have an opportunity to invite our youth to open their eyes and hearts and to “come and see.”

And as leaders in the church who work with youth, as Christians, and as members of the human race, we have a responsibility to call out racist stereotypes, words, actions, and beliefs for what they are and to denounce them… even and especially if they are carried out by our national leaders.  When we do so, we begin to model for our youth how they – too – can and should call out and shut down stereotypes and racist remarks and actions, no matter whom the person is that is behaving in such a manner.

This is not a partisan issue.  This is not about a political party or a particular politician.  This is about the evil and harmful sins of racism and white supremacy.  And they must be shut down.

Because to be silent about these statements and beliefs is to be complicit.  To ignore such statements and actions sends several strong messages to our youth and their families.

Our silences tells our youth and families that the racist statements and beliefs of the President are normal, are true, and thus can be continued.

Our silence tells our youth of color and their families that not only are they not valued by their country and many of their country’s leaders, but that they are also not valued by us, by the Church, or even by God.

Our silence tells all of our youth and families that some people – based on skin color and/or country of origin – are superior to others.  It says that God does not actually care about the “least of these” and that people of faith should just ignore God’s call (which we hear throughout the scriptures) to welcome and care for the immigrant and refugee, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim God’s good news of justice and peace to the world.

So how can we – as youth ministers and youth workers – break our silence?  

There are many ways, but we can start by:

  • Publicly calling out all forms of racism (individual and systemic, overt and covert) on social media, in church newsletters, in our sermons, and in our worship liturgy (prayers, calls to confession, music, etc).
  • Continuously educating ourselves on racism and immigration issues and actively working to become anti-racists. (For those of us who maintain white privilege: we must listen and learn about our own racism and how we benefit from and contribute to systemic racism.  This is a life-long journey.)
  • Leading youth group discussions about what scripture has to say about racial justice and immigration and teaching youth about immigration history in the U.S. and current issues related to immigration justice.
  • Leading youth group antiracism discussions, book studies, and workshops on how youth can identify, call out, and shut down racist comments and actions.
  • Helping youth learn about and from people and places that are different from them and from what they know.  (Teach youth about the history and current contexts of other countries, cities, and neighborhoods.  Take them on trips; share stories and videos; partner with other congregations; bring in speakers from immigration/refugee resettlement organizations, etc.)
  • Empowering youth to work for immigration and racial justice.  (Help them write and call their elected officials, asking them to publicly condemn racist statements and actions and to pass just policies.  Take them to town meetings, marches, teach-ins, and rallies that call for racial, economic, and immigration justice.)

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

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