My Love for Miami Dade Transit (MDT)

I am literally only few weeks away from being done with my YAV year in Miami. And, I thought if I didn’t write at least one blog post about my experience using the public transportation, I would be leaving out a big, I mean huge, part of my year.

Can I just start by saying that I LOVE THE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION? It might be surprising to some folks who have heard me complain about the long hours it takes for me to get anywhere or occasional tardiness or even absence of buses gravely impacting my schedule, like missing an important meeting for my placement. In which regards, yes, it is not fun when I have to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to go to some events in time or even miss them because there is simply no way that I will get to multiple places all over Miami on time when using public transit. And, it does limit and restrict my mobility some, especially on weekends. But, I have never felt more independent and free in my life as I have done riding the public transportation.

As a person who was deathly afraid of driving and who got her driver license late in life, riding public transportation granted me an alternative opportunity to not drive but go to places at the same time. Miami-Dade Transit system is like the city’s veins, branching out to all of its corners, providing means of transportation to many people for whom this is the only way that they can go to work, to school, to place of worship or anywhere else one goes daily. This means that many things in your life revolves around where the bus goes and where it stops. Even though it may sound restricting, it really is one of the most incredible ways to know the city. It might limit the choices of places you WOULD have gone normally, but it pushes you to go to places that you haven’t thought of going before. And, this process of understanding and getting to know the city by agents other than your own limited knowledge widens your perspective of the city in ways that is just special and intimate. It’s like the city is challenging you to walk the streets that not many people walk, and see the things that it has hidden for only some.

Especially in Miami, learning the city’s diverse population and its cultures is easier in public transportation. The tiny bus captures a miniature representation of the town it circulates. If I ride the bus in little Haiti, there are many Haitians carrying conversations in Creole. If I ride the bus in Little Havana, I would meet many Cubans, speaking Spanish to me even though I panic in facing this beautiful language spoken with accents unfamiliar to me. If I ride the bus near the South Beach, I would see more tourists and visitors of the city. It really is hard to ride the bus in some parts like Doral or Coral Gables because the bus doesn’t run as often and the green bus stop signs are hidden behind beautiful trees because not many people use public transit in these parts of the town. Which means I often miss the bus stop and have to walk a long path, under a hot Miami sun. Even though I grumble through my walking through the neighborhoods, it is another chance for me to get to know that part of the city, outside of a tiny vehicle that sometimes narrows my vision to the road and road only.

Can you tell how much I love public transportation? It really has been a blessing. Nevertheless, I also recognize that using the public transportation for many people means absence of certain privileges that great number of people in this country take for granted without knowing. Having a car means you can choose to go anywhere and anytime. It means you have a safer mode of transportation when things come up. It is seen as a must in this fast-paced, busy society. It really is hard for one to keep a job, carry out all the responsibilities that many jobs require and demand, without a car. If not for my supervisor who understands and flexibility of my placement, I would have been fired a long time ago. It really is a challenge to use the public transportation to fit in today’s life styles, if you are not in a big metropolitan city like New York.

I didn’t mean to write this long of a post, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how much the public trans has contributed to my YAV experience. The MDT is connected to all my memories of going to actions and protests in the crack of dawn, in pouring rain, and late nights. It is a part of my daily life when I get so mad to see the bus passing before me but also feel so grateful when passengers see a poor girl with a huge backpack running after the bus and calls the bus driver to stop. I am going to miss Miami, but I don’t think I would have poured out so much of myself into this city without public transportation challenging me to intimately touch, breath in, and walk the parts of the city otherwise not known to me. And, I plan on giving public transportation another try at home, because I want to love and know the city in which I grew up the way I got to know Miami this year. And, that will be another adventure!

Grace for “Undeserving” – After Visiting Krome Detention Center

Earlier this month, I have visited the Krome Detention Center near Miami, Florida. As a part of tour group, Friends of Miami Dade Detainees, my fellow YAV mate Michelle and I visited the facility to learn about the center and meet the detainees.  Krome Detention center or Krome Service Processing Center is one of the many immigration detention centers in the United States where people who have violated the immigration law are held. They are not serving time for a crime. Many of them are detained, waiting for a removal process or court hearings, purely for “administrative purposes” we were told. We were background checked and went through security procedures. After we entered, an officer gave a brief presentation about what they do and what we will be seeing. Then, we toured the facility. There are 600 beds that are filled with detainees for some sort of conflict with immigration law.

I thought about what I should share about the visit. Honestly I am not sure what I can share. Because I can tell you about the frustration that detainees face as they struggle to navigate unfamiliar system with little knowledge of their rights and very little English; their incredible effort to understand the law and way to freedom, contacting unresponsive free legal aid numbers. I can also share their fear in isolation from their family and friends, disrespect and humiliation in being forced to sign their own deportation paper without being fully informed in language they understand. I can share that many of them have lived here long enough to call it their home and there is no other home outside of here. I can share that, for some, returning to their country of origin is not an option, and might be deported to a third country of no relation. However, as important as those stories are, I thought I would face a wall that I always encounter in sharing any stories of undocumented immigrants: That they deserve what they face because they have broken the law.

I have thought great deal about and struggled with two very polarizing sides to immigration issue in this country. It seems logical or even natural when a law is broken, then there should be consequences. On the other hand, I struggled to deal with the fact that ordinary people that I see and meet everyday have to bear the consequences of breaking the law. Because once I put myself in a  place of a friend, family member, or loved one of the detainees, the perspective changes completely. The whole thing seems so unsettling that all they hoped for was to have a better life for their family or to flee from a life of violence and poverty, yet it seems also “logical” as there are consequences to any violation of the law and all people have to face them when the laws are broken. However, more than anything, it has been difficult for me to see the coldness, indifference, disrespect toward the detainees or undocumented immigrants, especially when the contempt comes from people of faith, people I call my brothers and sisters because we share the same faith in Jesus.

Thinking about immigration, I tried not to be partial. I tried to be objective. And, the most compromising place I came to was that as people of faith we should have compassion, regardless of people’s choices and status. But, the more I think about it, the angrier I get about the realities of our lives and the comments like “illegal aliens should return to their own community to develop their own countries so that their only export aren’t drugs and its people”.  There are big gaps between lives of people. While I have privileges and luxury to consider my option, pursue my dream, and live more comfortably than many others, there are people whose choices for better life, no matter how hard they try, start with overcoming poverty and violence.  While there are incredible amount of food to be wasted from one part of the world, there are not enough to feed in the other. While there is so much wealth in one part of the neighborhood, there is so much poverty in the other. Numerous people are in situations where crime is the way to live, way to survive – a violation of law seem necessary to pursue the life they hope for. I have been told that this is how life is and we have to learn to deal with it. We just have to work harder to overcome the obstacles. That there is no excuse for any choices we make, no matter whether I have more and some others have less to begin with. I become angry that we are taught to accept things as they are and to feel indifferent because they are just how it is. I am angry that that is often the attitude I have, excusing my responsibility in taking part in this world.

I am not complaining that I have privileges I am grateful for the the privileges allowed in my life. I am also sure that many hard-working people are grateful for the opportunities to earn what they have. And, I am in no way promoting law breaking or saying that there aren’t people who overcome these difficulties in life, without breaking the law. Yet, many people fail to realize the fact that not everyone hold certain privileges. But, there is a show of contempt and absolute insistence that those who break the law are undeserving of compassion and dignity. And, I am infuriated by people’s willful negligence to care about state of people who seem “deserving” of what they suffer. When Christians, undeserving people, were redeemed by the Grace that was so freely given, many, including myself, are so hesitant in giving mercy and grace as we have received them. There is a sense of entitlements and self-righteousness that I detest in myself and even in those who recognize great privileges that we hold. Empathy and understanding are not a sign of weaknesses. Amnesty, not just giving excuses for a poor behavior, but a sign of compassion. And, I believe these apply to every aspect of our lives, not just immigration.

I do not wish to shame people or point fingers, even though often times I sound like it. If I did, I would be pointing fingers at myself also. Because I am guilty of forgetting my privileges and choosing not to care. I understand being subject of critique without love which stirs up resentments rather than giving reason to love and care more. But, I am reminded by this opportunity that no matter how much I am tempted to carry on with my own life, pursue my own comfort and happiness only, I always have to consciously choose to care. To pursue what is right. To show compassion. To work against injustice. Because people, with fewer privileges than I, have to overcome greater challenges than I could ever face. And, in all circumstances, I would want to be respected and remembered as a human being worthy of dignity, not just as a labeled outcast.

It is a battle within me, but I am probably not the only one who fights this battle. So, I wanted to share this with my family in Christ after my visit to the Krome. That we should care. That we should remember that awareness of suffering no matter the cause is a beginning of our realization of having responsibility to share the burden. It is not the end of our goal in our pursuit of what is right nor a license to demonize other parties who do not share the same sense of responsibility. But, it is Christians’ responsibility to care about all, even those who seem “undeserving” – whether those who break the law or who look away from the world’s suffering, because we have been shown grace and love that are unconditional. And, we should encourage each other to remember that grace and love that were so freely given. It is not a call for only some, but for all of us who profess to love Jesus.

 

Count the Many Towers – Discovering the face of God

Image“Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers.Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die.” Psalm 48:12-14

Yesterday was our last community day with Heidi, Miami site director and it was one of the most meaningful community days for me this year. In community days, all Miami volunteers, often with Heidi, would spend time together getting to know each other, getting to know the city, and sharing experiences. As some of us have left early to start next chapter in life, Michelle, Heidi, and I went on one more adventure together to explore the city we serve.   

We started the day with breakfast at Coral Bagel, local breakfast place where we had a short devotion from Psalm 48, getting ready to go out to different parts of Miami. The passage foreshadowed our own counting towers, taking note of the fortified walls, and touring all the citadels of this great city so that we can share what we have learned and have seen with those who will come to serve Miami this summer. We went to Homestead and Northwest Miami, stopping by organizations and ministries that are hidden in small corners of places that I wouldn’t have noticed normally if Heidi didn’t intentionally point them out to us. We just drove around the city, talking about brief history of these organizations, partnerships with them, and the people being served through them. These ministries attempt to address the issues like homelessness, at-risk youth, poverty, discrimination, and many others. And, they do this in partnership with many others who not only see the issues, but also the people behind them. They were somehow all connected.

As I reflect on the passage of Psalm 48 which urges people to look around the city of God whose greatness can be glimpsed through the strength and beauty radiating through the city walls, I think about what we have seen in Miami yesterday as just that: Seeing the face of God in the city. Except where I have seen God’s presence this year has not always been the towering buildings and glamorous city lights but in people’s struggles, isolation, and sufferings. In my own failures and despair. Also, in people’s humility, love, and solidarity despite the challenges. There is a message of hope that is greater than our struggles. He shows His goodness and love in these times, offering invitation to join Him when it seems bleak and hopeless. And, sometime it is too good to be true and I hesitate to accept it. But, God uses His people to encourage and love on us. I’m ever so thankful for my brothers and sisters who help me see God’s great call of love when I can’t and His hand prints in things that are broken.   

  

Living Faithfully as Christ-followers

What does it mean to live faithfully as Christ-followers?

What does it mean to live a life as “Christians”? What does that mean and look like in real life?

There can be NUMEROUS answers based on countless sources. Scriptures. Guidelines. Suggestions. Lives of real people in the past and current world. Abstract ideas. Concepts. and Theologies. Advice from people of faith in various walks of life.  And, I am not discounting any of these. Rather, I believe these are incredibly important in order to live this life – whatever this life entails – of followers of Christ.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I pose this question internally or publicly because I’m necessarily looking for the right answer. It’s the questions that follow that I want to consider deeper. And, in order to think about these questions, I first have to reflect on the question above.

After I ask the initial question, I begin a series more: Do I live it – the life of Christ-follower? Do I live what I profess? Do WE, as believers and people of God’s Kingdom, live out our faith in His Presence collectively? If not, how do I (or we) live that? Where do we begin? Or, is defining life set apart as Christians needed or important? Or, is there such a thing? do we just live life as best as we know how and hope that is enough?

I reflect on these questions as I see the tension between the life I live and the faith I claim to have because there is a gap. And, I believe that this gap is only bridged by the Spirit of God and the process is what this life is supposed to be. And, I thought and still think doing this service year is a part of living that life as a Christ-follower in my life. But, that’s not enough these days. I thirst for more. And, I don’t even know what. Just seeking and searching which seems to be never ending.

 

 

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

It is already May! Only three months away from the end of my YAV year. It is a weird feeling, approaching the end. And, I have been trying to post here more often. There are a couple of blog posts that I have been editing and drafting past month and a half that I haven’t even posted with all the craziness of moving out of Club Shirley (yes, we moved because of mold situation), Florida legislative session, and other transitions of this year. I came to the conclusion, it will take FOREVER for me to finish drafting any of the blog posts to form fully with words. So, instead, I will post pictures – only a few! If one picture is worth a thousand words, then all these will worth tens of thousands of words. None of these are just random pictures. Every one of them tells a story of my year so far and I am reminded of it every time I look at them. So, here goes – my attempt to share those stories! (Warning: This is NOT in chronological order – if I tried that – THAT will take forever)
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A Reminder of Why I am Here

“So, why did you choose South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice as your placement?”

This was a question asked to me during a conversation with a cool Discover group from UNC Lutheran Ministry.  I have been fortunate enough to interact with a few of amazing mission groups who come to Miami to serve and learn through DOOR. First time I was invited to speak alone (without my super knowledgeable supervisor) about the work SFIWJ does, I was incredibly nervous but it turned out better than I could ever hope for and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with such an open and enthusiastic group who wanted to learn about the work we do as an organization.

Tonight, I was invited to speak again and meet with a wonderful, engaging group of UNC students in Lutheran Ministry (Yay, Carolina!). I thought I could do better at explaining what we do and what we try to do to serve workers in our community. From an organizational stand point, I have witnessed and have been a part of a coalition of passionate people who work hard everyday so that people who are overlooked and abused in their workplaces and community will be able to stand with dignity and respect. Everyone has different ways, ideas, and values that they bring to the table, but the key reason that motivatea these different groups to work together is the people. And, through SFIWJ, I have learned and am still learning to do that. Stand with people in solidarity. Because we are all people who deserve respect and grace from one another.

Nevertheless, when the question above was posed to me tonight I was a little taken aback. Not in a bad way. I just had to shift gear to why I was working at SFIWJ to do the work I do, not why SFIWJ work as an organization. A brief flashback of my discerning process went through my mind. I remember coming to that decision with hesitancy. It wasn’t because I thought SFIWJ was a horrible organization or thought that the work was not worthwhile. The people, the issue, the heart. They are extremely important and shared core among most of people who work in this field and they bring everyone together to work towards better and improved lives for people. But, why was I doing it?

Initially, my hope and my dream doing a service year were that the work I take part in would have Jesus’ name on it. I came to this program hoping to put faith into action. Beyond my faith, I wanted the work and ministry I took part in to be done under the name of Christ. And, SFIWJ, an amazing organization representing multiple faith communities was not the most perfect example of what I envisioned. In the end though, it really didn’t matter what I envisioned. Because to be very truthful, I came to SFIWJ because I felt God lead. There were definitely aspects of the work that I was drawn to, but more than anything I really felt like God led me to where I am now to work wherever He leads, knowing that I will do it because of Jesus. It is not necessarily what it appears to be or where it is, as long as I am a Christ-follower and I do things because He is in the lead, then that work is done in the name of  Christ. Because of His presence in the work that I do, it is work that He uses to reach the people He loves.

I needed that reminder today. During my long commute up north (which I enjoy the public trans), I asked God why I was here. What was the His purpose in me being here? When I lose focus in the midst of struggle, I seem to ask God that a lot. And, with grace and gentleness, He nudges me and I have to stop and think. I am here because He wants me here. Whether it is to love, to fight, to stand, to fall , to share, to witness, to learn, to grow, to struggle, to hit rock bottom, to reach the peak, to be, to act. I am not entirely certain, but the fact that He led me here and it wasn’t my crazy idea alone is enough for today.

Update of Journey in Miami — Entering 2014.

It has been three months since I last posted! I really came to Miami thinking that I will blog at least once a month, but that turned out to be harder than I thought. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about or nothing happened past three months. On the contrary, LOTS of things happened. More thoughts went through my mind. As a person who processes internally, I didn’t want to write a blog post before I had my time to think and process what I have been experiencing and learning. But, I guess that process will be a never-ending journey. So, after many reminders and encouragements that I should share, I’m here!

Up till Christmas, I was a bit overwhelmed with challenges that I faced. Finding my place at a new environment, challenging my comfort zone, and learning about self and others, and seeking God in the midst of all these took time and persevering. And, it is still continuing, the process of learning, serving, and purging through – and I don’t think it will ever end. Christmas break was a nice, restful, and recharging time for me to think about and reflect. I saw familiar faces, places, and settings with a different perspective and thought if 4 months away can do that, what would happen when I come back after a year. I also realized my limits as well as my strengths. It was definitely a needed time. Regardless, first week back to Miami was incredibly difficult, more so than before. This was when homesickness hit more.

But, in ALL THESE, God reminded me again to be faithful. I tried multiple times before to be intentional about giving thanks to God who give so much, but whenever I struggled, I became really discouraged.  Then, I went to worship one night and I was reminded to look beyond myself and my little struggles and see Him and His greater purpose. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1. Isn’t God bigger than myself and His purpose good compared to any others’? I was so caught up with small and big struggles in my own life, I kept losing focus on His will and concern for others. And, I still do this all the time, but I don’t fear challenges as much anymore, knowing that following Christ will require more difficult challenges in life but I have greater hope in Jesus.