Connecting with “The Other”

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my friend Kelly might just be a pro at it. She’s one of those people that everyone knows or wants to know. And she brings out the best in people, asking the right questions to help them discover more fully how to live into their best self. This post is just one more nudge in the right direction as Kelly leads the way…

Connect Guest Post: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

We are called to connect—to God, ourselves and others. This story is how God called me to connect with, for lack of a better term, “the other.” Those I knowingly or unknowingly separate myself from for reasons as simple or as difficult as culture, socioeconomic status, location, religion or gender. “The other” is anyone I see as different from me, regardless of why.

For several years I’ve been connecting in unexpected ways, out of my comfort zone, which pushes me more and more into the arms of Jesus. It started about three and a half years ago when our family moved to Northern California. Prior to having children, I moved a lot. I prided myself on moving efficiently, on not having a lot of baggage. I had worked out a loose system for quickly assimilating into a new community. We always started by joining a church.

But when we moved I felt strongly that I was to immerse myself into the community itself rather than a church community. It seemed counter-intuitive—it’s always easier to become a part of a community with like-minded people who possess similar values—but I couldn’t shake it. So I invested my time and energy into the people I met at my children’s school.

Around the same time, I saw a small add in a local paper advertising for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that trains you to become a CASA for a foster child in the court system. I can’t tell you why that ad leapt off the page. But it did, and just thinking about it filled me with the kind of joy I knew I needed to pursue.

I became a CASA to a one-year old girl in the foster care system. Due to confidentiality, I can’t share her story but I can tell you that I was in the right place at the right time. And I loved that CASA connected me to a family in crisis in the community I lived in. A family I may never have run into on my own. Despite different cultures, religions and socioeconomic levels, we forged a connection in working for the best interest of my CASA whom we all loved dearly.

They showed me their world and I helped them navigate mine. Survival, keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table, was their all-consuming job. Once Child Protective Services entered their world, they faced unfamiliar rules and confusing paperwork. Though the system tries to help, it often feels burdensome to the population it serves. Being a CASA made me a bridge to help them connect, communicate, and understand one another. Connecting with CASA, her family, and social services changed all of our lives for the better.

Way outside my “comfortable life bubble,” God has also called me to connect with the homeless community. I can’t tell you how many times my eyes have darted away from a homeless man or woman standing on the corner with a sign for help. When you’re just trying to get your errands done, it’s hard to know what to do when you encounter suffering, desperation, and most likely some degree of mental illness. Before children, I found effective and safe ways to engage with the homeless community. As a mother of three children who accompany me in my every day, I have been at a loss. Most times, it was just easier to pretend that I didn’t see them there.

But God would not leave me alone. He is determined “to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.” Anne Lamott once described God as a kitten “constantly nipping at her heels.” It felt just like that. Matthew 25:31-45 ran on an endless loop. Be warned: if you don’t want Jesus to speak to you, don’t click the link. Make no mistake, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

Read God’s Word and you see how it became hard to ignore. I finally relented with an, “Okay, God, I get it. Those people on the street corner who make me want to turn away are You. You identify with the least of these. The helpless, the hopeless, the weak, those without a voice in our society, those whom we treat as invisible because it is more convenient, safe, and comfortable. Lord, they are You. When I choose to ignore them, I choose to ignore You. Please help me. With kids, I have no idea how to touch You in a culturally relevant and meaningful way. If you show me how, I will do it.”

“Help me, God” prayers are generally just what He’s been waiting for. He doesn’t show me the whole path, but without fail He illuminates the next step. “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back.”

The next day, I walked into church a little early (a miracle in itself) and saw a huge screen advertising a training the next weekend for an organization called Wings. An organization which specializes in homeless advocacy. If I learned anything from my time as a CASA, it’s that I am made to be a voice for those who do not have one and to advocate on their behalf.

I’ve landed as one of Wings‘ dispatchers. I send out request emails to a small volunteer army to meet a need in our local homeless community. Needs vary: a ride to a doctor’s appointment, help getting a new pair of orthotic shoes, grocery shopping, or delivering a welcome basket of helpful goodies to someone who has just secured housing. And, the best part, I work from my living room while I help the kiddos with their homework. God made a way. I never would have dreamed that God would use my prior training as a paralegal to advocate for the homeless from the comfort and safety of my living room. He really can do anything.

I invite you to open yourself up to God’s way to connect in whatever arena He is nudging you toward. Maybe He’s calling you into the arena of forgiveness, or a sacrificial donation to some organization. You’ll know. He won’t quit “nipping at your heels.” Whatever it is, if you ask for help and surrender to doing things His way, He will connect you to the people you need to get there. I can’t promise it will be easy but I do know that God will always be faithful. Even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

Also, if you partner with God in the work He calls you to, you will eventually find a kind of joy that only Jesus can give. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” So wherever you are and whatever it is, do it. God is calling you to connect. Someone is waiting for you.

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

Mexico: A Quick Glimpse

Amor Ministries has been organizing groups to build houses in Mexico for 30 years. Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church has been taking high school students and adults to build houses in Mexico during spring break for 25 years. Pastor Dave knows just how life-changing this experience can be – he has spent spring break building homes in Mexico since he was a high school freshman.

I have been on two Mexico house-building trips, each with a different organization, each prior to having kids. Since then, I’ve spent spring break with my kids and hosted extra kids (and dogs) so other people could go to Mexico.

This year I got to cross the border with the MVPC team for one night. One of my kiddos was on the trip while the other stayed with Grandma in San Diego.

I met the group at Amor headquarters in San Diego, where they had a party waiting.

M partyM reyM lobbyM snowconesM ladiesM JusticeM guysAnd then, the call… “Board the Bus!” The crowd scatters in anticipation. Mexico is SO close!M bus

Welcome to Amor's new camp!

Welcome to Amor’s new camp!

Hydration station

Hydration station

The buses got stuck at the border for longer than usual. The adults on the Advance Team wait…

M crew

M waitAnd Bus 1 arrives, eventually.M bus 1The search for luggage begins.M luggaeThe rest of the buses arrive as it grows dark. Tent set-up will be a tad tricky!M bus 23Once tents are up kids can check out camp, including the Encouragement Boards (eBoards) which will be so meaningful throughout the week.M boardsWhen morning comes, the camp is especially grateful for the creative design of the hand washing station where they can brush teeth and wash hands/face with potable water.M handwashOveralls on, faces washed, hair braided by friends, lunches packed and a delicious breakfast consumed, the camp gets ready for the day.

The Media Team T-shirt features almost 1,000 pictures from past Mexico trips

The Media Team T-shirt features almost 1,000 pictures from past Mexico trips

Leaders Ready To Go!

Leaders Ready To Go!

Morning prayer, & Day 1 instructions

Morning prayer & Day 1 instructions

And THIS is why we’re all here…

The Build Site

The Build Site

This year all of the 13 build sites are in the same community. By the end of this week, one-quarter of the community’s population will have new homes. By the end of this week, MVPC will have built approximately 270 homes for the previously homeless over the past 25 years. Praise be to God!

Teams arrived and got right to work, Student Leaders in charge working well alongside their Adult Team leaders.M work

Sometimes issues arise right away. The Adult Team had a fence to deal with.

Sometimes issues arise right away. The Adult Team had a fence to deal with.

Tie Dye!

Tie Dye!

Making friends right away

Making friends

My trip to Mexico was less than 24 hours, actually closer to 18. Dinner to late lunch. Just long enough to be an overwhelming first glimpse, with 270 new friends finding their way and setting up in a new camp. The organization and creativity was overwhelmingly apparent as well – student leaders had obviously put time and prayer into thinking through team colors, fun team pictures, colorful eBoards, and pre-trip team bonding events. The Media Team and Tool Crew all set up and ready when students arrived. The oh-so-helpful hand washing station. The tenting “neighborhoods,” new this year and layering in one more small group element within such a large group. The Student Leaders so clearly prepared to lead a house-building experience.

As I type, teams are more than half-way done with the week. Houses and relationships are being built. In keeping with this year’s theme, Rooted, participants are developing roots that can hold them steady long beyond this week.

Border crossing takes way too long

Goodbye, Mexico

“…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” Ephesians 3:17-18

In Jesus’ name, and to God be the glory. Amen.