29 March, 2011

Well, last week was difficult. Three of Atlanta's Mission Year team members unexpectedly left the program, including Colyn, my friend and coworker at the Georgia Justice Project. This decision has had a huge impact on many people and communities. I'm still trying to process through everything, but I ask that you would please be in prayer for Colyn, Josh, and Janelle, as well as for the team mates, neighbors, work sites, and friends that they left behind.

In other news, last week I was able to attend a rally against Georgia's anti-immigration bills. Over 8,000 people gathered outside the State Capitol Building to show their support for the cause. An article appeared in the APN (Atlanta Progressive News) about it. It's really long, so i'll just post a few quotes...

"Oh say can you see... broken families? hungry children? broken dreams? the REAL America"

"Thousands of Georgia immigrants and allies came together today to say no more to racial profiling and no more to the dangerous and unfair targeting of immigrant communities and communities of color," Adelina Nicholls, director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and one of the rally's central organizers, said in a statement. The business community, as well as the rally participants, hope to convince Governor Nathan Deal to veto the bill when it comes to his desk. "It makes no sense that Governor Deal seems intent on supporting legislation that will bankrupt the state - both morally and financially. We call on him to veto such misguided policy," Nicholls said.

My friends Carissa and Destry were interviewed for the news!

"We want to make the capitol walls tremble, so we can send a message to the legislators and the governor that what they are doing is not right," State Rep. Pedro Marin told APN in an English translation of his speech to the protesters.

The crowd enthusiastically shouted, "Si, Se Puede," or "Yes, It Can Be Done," after every speaker. The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Georgia-based folk rock music duo, sang "Shame On You" to loud applause from the rally. Lyrics from the song include:
Let's go road block trippin in the middle of the night up in Gainesville town
There'll be blue lights flashing down the long dirt road when they ask us to step out
They say, we be looking for illegal immigrants, can we check your car?
I say, you know it's funny, I think we were on the same boat back in 1694

Both Georgia bills authorize all law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of anyone they have "probable cause" to believe has committed a criminal offense, including traffic violations. Other provisions mandate vehicle confiscation, fines and/or jail time for transporting an "illegal alien" in a motor vehicle. (Good luck to MARTA on this one)

"We are here for two reasons today. We deserve and demand dignity and respect, for without our immigrant community, Georgia does not work. It is the immigrant labor, in the agricultural industry, that produces 68 billion dollars for Georgia," Jerry Gonzales, Executive Director, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said. "It's time to move past politics and division - time to create jobs instead of killing jobs."

"There is nothing more powerful than a determined and committed people. You must not give up. You must not give in. You must try everything possible to keep this bill from passing," the legendary US Rep. John Lewis said. "There are no illegal human beings. We do not want Arizona type legislation in Georgia."

"Immigration is an issue for the national government, not the government of the state of Georgia," Lewis said. "If you are arrested, I will get arrested and go to jail with you. The jails in Georgia are not large enough to hold all of us," Lewis promised.

If you'd like to read the full story, which includes more information on the Bills, you can do so here!
"The rights of immigrants are human rights!"

18 March, 2011

Atlanta has been graced with the beauty of spring! I am awakened by sparrows singing love songs from tree branches. The sidewalks are lined with blossoming daffodils and abandoned lots are freckled with vibrant bursts of color.

This week, Caz gave us a beautiful poem to reflect on. It resonated deep in my soul. I am posting it here in hopes that it resonates with you as well.
Springtime Jesus
You, Springtime Jesus,
just as I'd settled down for the winter,
you broke into my heart
and danced your love right across it
in a mad excess of giving.
Just as I'd got comfortable
with bare branches and unfeeling,
just as my world was neatly black and white,
there you were,
kicking up flowers
all over the place.

Springtime Jesus,
I tried to find a way to tell you
that there were places
where you could or could not dance.
I wanted to guide you on my paths
and have you sign the visitor's book;
but you laughed right through my words
and sang to me your melting song,
causing sap to fire the branches,
causing the flames of buds
to flicker into green bonfires,
causing a windquake of blossom,
causing burstings, searings, breakings,
causing growth-pain,
causing life.

Springtime Jesus,
the fulness of life can be frightening
and I'm lacking in courage.
It isn't easy to live with a heart
that's wide open to invasion.
Teach me, Jesus, how to move with you,
step for step, in your love dance.
Touch my fears with your melting song.
Gift me with your laughter,
and, in the mystery of your Springtime,
show me the truth of the blossoming Cross.

Oh, how I love springtime! I love the new life, healthy plants, and the beautiful blossoms that come in the spring! It is such a joyful season, but the dreariness of winter is necessary for the health, beauty, and joy of the spring to come. The earth needs the rain in order to be fruitful. Even the snow, which may seem unnecessary and harsh for plants, provides the soil with rich nutrients that cannot be obtained any other way. And although the winter may seem long and sometimes dreadful, God is always faithful to bring us the spring! This speaks volumes into my life! Whenever I'm struggling through hard times, cold times, or dreary times, God is always faithful to bring new life and beauty as a result of the hardship.

I really enjoy this poem. It truly captures the momentum of spring bursting forth. I thought it was interesting to read of the author's resistance to the change. This stuck out to me:
I tried to find a way to tell you
that there were places
where you could or could not dance
I think this need for control seeps out into so many areas of our lives. Walking through our neighborhood, I see some yards that have been taken care of, some that have been neglected, and others that belong to long-abandoned houses. But the places where I have seen the most new life are the desolate places. People have tended to their yards and don't allow wild plants to flourish there, yet daffodils are blossoming all over empty lots. There is so much beauty in this!

Likewise, I often try to control what areas of my life I will let God into. But He wants to control my spiritual "springtime." He knows where I need new life. If I yield to God, to Springtime Jesus, then my life will be like this poem, bursting, searing, and breaking, but fill of beauty and life.

I spent today at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. And what beauty I found there! For awhile, I sat and watched as several people walked by, admiring the different varieties of flowers. These people reminded me of patrons at an art museum, walking a few feet, then stopping to discuss the specific hues of each work of art. Except today, the artist was God. I pray that today you would experience springtime and find peace and joy in God's beautiful and glorious art!

From Atlanta, with Love

These ones remind me of Alice in Wonderland

And of course, no garden is complete without St. Francis de Assisi

17 March, 2011

As promised, here are two galleries of photos from last weekend's neighborhood clean up. Check 'em out! They might give you a better idea of what my neighborhood looks like!

The 661-foot-long wall for our mural

15 March, 2011

Hey my dears! I just wanted to give you a quick update on what I've been up to in the past few weeks. The annual Mission Year Gala was held two weeks ago at the beautiful Callanwolde Arts Center. There's something magical about the big mansion, which was built in the 1920s. I felt like I might accidentally walk through a doorway and find myself in Narnia. The event was a fundraiser and had great music, food, photos, and a silent auction.

Could you find Narnia in there?

The reception hall

One of the gorgeous rooms set up for a silent auction

Last Wednesday, I went in for more medical testing. I had 3 MRIs, an echocardiogram, and a 24-hour halter monitor. The echocardiogram was actually kind of fun. I felt like a pregnant woman except instead of looking at a blurry black and white picture of a baby, it was my heart, pumping away. The other tests weren't too bad, except I had to get two separate IVs! :( My poor inner elbow... (does it actually have a name??) I'll go back to the doctor's office on the 31st for all the results.

This weekend, the Atlanta Mission Year teams volunteered at a big conference. It was pretty fun, but slightly chaotic. We had the opportunity to attend some of the workshops. I went to a really good one about the differences between ministering to Urban Youth and Suburban Youth, as well as a workshop on helping urban children and teens who have been abused.

I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but Green My Hood (my new service site) is sponsoring a community beautification project - a 661-foot-long mural along the main road in our neighborhood. On Saturday morning, over one hundred people came out to help pick up trash, tame abandoned lots, and prime the big wall in preparation for the mural. Unfortunately, my team and I were unable to be there because we were at the conference. But I was excited nonetheless that so many people were willing to help make a difference in our neighborhood! And they did indeed make a huge difference. The mural hasn't even been painted yet, but the pale-yellow primer already has had a brightening affect in the neighborhood! I'll soon post some pictures to give you a better idea of what my neighborhood looks like!

After the conference on Saturday, my team and I returned to our neighborhood and helped set up for the Green My Hood Neighborhood Donor Night. This event was a reception for people in the community who have donated to the mural project. There was wine, cheese, and desserts, all made delicious by the presence of some wonderful people.

The donor night, held at our local coffee shop

In other exciting news, two days last week, I was able to go with some of our attorneys to the capitol building to listen to the Judiciary Sub-Committee Meeting and the hearing for House Bill 402. This is a bill that will change access to criminal records so that people who have been found "Not Guilty" of charges won't be haunted by them for the rest of their lives. One of our attorneys has played a major part in shaping this bill and getting it this far along in the process. The following article, written by the Executive Director here at the Georgia Justice Project, was published yesterday's Atlanta Business Chronicle! This has been a big part of the work at GJP lately and I just wanted to share it with you! Enjoy!


By Guest Columnist DOUGLAS B. AMMAR, executive director of the Georgia Justice Project

I believe that the business community should support House Bill 402. This bill will help thousands of men and women in Georgia who are struggling to find work and support their families.

With the unemployment numbers released last week we know just how challenging it is for anyone to find a job in Georgia right now. It can be nearly impossible if you have a criminal record, even if you were never convicted.

This bill will address part of that problem by making it easier for people who have charges on their criminal history that did not result in a conviction to get back to work, becoming tax payers rather than tax burdens.

HB 402 was unanimously passed by a subcommittee of the Judicial Non-Civil Committee last week, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. Under the bill, arrests would automatically be deleted from an individual’s official Georgia criminal history if the charges were dismissed or not prosecuted, or if an individual is found not guilty at trial.

This automated system would replace our current process called expungement which is inefficient and costly. It costs $50 to get an arrest record expunged, more if you hire an attorney, and can take over a year. Many Georgians who are out of work can’t afford the fees and they can’t afford to wait.

Many people don’t realize that even if you aren’t convicted of a charge the arrest stays on your record indefinitely for employers to see. Studies have shown that employers overwhelmingly consider arrests even when charges were dismissed.

From the employer’s perspective this may be understandable – when you see a charge on an applicant’s criminal history a red flag goes up. Even though we believe in innocent until proven guilty, we don’t always know how to decipher these reports and how we can or should use this information.

This bill will alleviate that concern because only convictions and pending charges would appear on the report.

Our current expungement law was drafted in a time when our personal privacy couldn’t be violated by a quick search on the internet. Now it’s time for our laws to catch up with technology.

How many of us want a 20-year-old arrest which was thrown out for lack of evidence haunting us for the rest of our lives? Every day in the Georgia Justice Project office we talk to folks who are putting in employment application after application only to be told that an old arrest is the reason they are not hired. They don’t know where to turn for support. Our small office can only help a very limited number of people so we are supporting this change in the law that will help thousands.

Public safety is not at risk under this bill. In fact, I think the opposite is true. First of all, police officers and prosecutors will always have access to every arrest record as they do now even when charges are expunged.

Actually, public safety will be enhanced because unfortunately when an individual cannot find work they are much more likely to commit a crime. This is an opportunity to stop the cycle of crime and incarceration before it starts by removing a significant barrier to employment.

An additional benefit of this new automated process is that it will free up criminal justice resources. Currently each of the over 600 arresting agencies in Georgia has to accept expungement applications and individual prosecutors have to review them, this process diverts time and scarce resources from fighting violent crime in our communities, something we can’t afford to do right now.

In a time when we are making difficult decisions about spending and budgets, we need to support measures that will save money while reducing crime. I believe House Bill 402 does just that.

03 March, 2011

Two weekends ago, I had a lovely visit from my wonderful parents! It was great to show them around my neighborhood and the city and to let them see what I've been doing here in Atlanta! We spent time at the Piedmont Botanical Gardens, The Margaret Mitchell House, The Federal Reserve Museum, and Oakland Cemetery! We went to The World of Coke with my roommates (except for Kaitlin who was at a wedding in Wichita for the weekend) and Maureen's adorable mother! We also had a bunch of neighbors over for a meal together, which was great and allowed my parents to meet some of the people in my community. On Sunday, they came to church with me, an experience that was surely different for them, but that they enjoyed immensely. Here are a few pictures from our trip to The World of Coke.

Dad and Mom waiting in line for The World of Coke

Emily and Jyssica

Maureen and her Mom

Family portrait minus Kevie (miss you, brother!!)

My Dad and I

This past weekend, we held a talent show in our neighborhood! We had a ton of people show up and surprise us with their talents. It was a lot of fun! Several of our neighbors asked if we could do something similar again, so I think they really enjoyed it! And thanks so much to everyone who came out to support us!
The East Point Mission Year Team singing for a packed house

Kaitlin and Kim

Maureen and Kaitlin leading the audience in song and dance

"Sam" (aka Caz Tod) telling a story about killing Scott the Duck!

As part of my studies at George Fox, I wrote a mission statement for my life. This past month, Caz asked us to write a mission statement. I revisited my statement from a few years ago and feel proud that I have been able to live out parts of my statement and am moving towards my vision for my life. By no means am I perfect, but by the grace of God, I am trying my best to achieve my dreams. I re-wrote a few areas of this statement to include newly discovered passions. I want to share this mission statement with you so you can gain a deeper understanding of my reasons for participating in Mission Year and my heart for my life, my neighbors, and the world.

It is my personal mission...
to live a life defined by the love of God.
to use the gifts, talents, and resources that God has given me to do what He is calling me to do.
to bless others and to light up their lives with His love.
to live a life marked by integrity.
to seek wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, and to learn from every situation I am in and from every person I meet.
to learn the breadth of God's love and the diversity of His people by travelling to, taking part in, and experiencing different cultures.
to seek justice and liberation for those who are oppressed.
to show hospitality to all God's children.
to welcome the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.
to find God's beauty in all things.
to seek peace in all places.
to tread lightly on the earth, take care of God's creation, and be a good steward of what He has given me.
to seek a sustainable society and a clean healthy environment.
to encourage creativity.
to find inspiration in the simple things.
to be more adventurous each day.
to live my life to its fullest, achieve my full potential, and give my all in every situation.
to be content regardless of my circumstances, whether full or hungry, rich or poor, hands full or hands empty.
and to do all of these things with humility, for the glory of God.

02 March, 2011

The Georgia Justice Project was on the news, along with my coworker Ashley! Check it out here!