Community Fellows Wrap Up
I nervously glanced at my watch. 1:45pm.The flyer I painstakingly made said the party started at 1pm. I looked around my living room. Bare as an empty desert. I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll on through. Would they come? I got a few phone calls and texts the day before. Surely somebody would have shown up by now!
This was it. The culmination of our fellows year. Laura and I planned a block party and invited all the neighbors we met over the past 11 months it all came down to this. At 2:15pm when I wanted to give up hope and about ready to drown my sorrows eating all the hamburgers I grilled, I heard a knock at the door.
It was Linda and her daughter, neighbors a couple doors down. My interactions with them had been few over the past couple months, but I was grateful that someone showed up!
The first couple of minutes were painful. The awkward silences. Trying to find something to get natural conversation going. But one thing I learned this year is to embrace the awkwardness and push through. As time went on, more neighbors showed up. And little by little I felt less anxious. Less anxiety about connecting neighbors to one another. It was happening. Naturally.
I stepped back and saw my neighbors engaging with one another. Finding common ground with one another. Sharing their stories with one another. Laughing together. I kept pinching myself. Was this real life?!
After the incredible shindig, while walking with one of my neighbors to her home, she told me this, “That was fun, I always wanted to get to met the people around the neighborhood, I’m glad I went. Thanks for doing that.”
I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. This is just the beginning, I thought. The fruit is bearing.
The past 11 months have been a journey. My hope starting this fellows program last summer was that I would gain hands on experience learning how to practically live out what it means when Jesus commands us “to love our neighbor.” I came into Bellflower hoping to be an agent of God’s love in the Cedar Neighborhood. Little did I know my life would be turned upside down in radical ways in the next 11 months.
People ask me “What is the biggest thing you are taking away from this year?” I sit baffled. I learned so much! But the biggest thing?
My most AUTHENTIC ministry comes from my own brokenness.
The first 4 months of the fellows program were definitely the hardest. As I dealt with the transition of a moving to a new city, getting to know a new roommate, a new job, a new church, and new neighbors, I was dealing with my own personal brokenness in the midst of all this and trying to make sense of it all with God. I was learning to surrender and cling to God in ways that challenged and stretched me. I was broken and many times cried out to God “Lord how do I love those around me, when I feel so weak and fragile?”
But he provided. He showed me that my brokenness is universal. I began to see my neighbors with new eyes. I realized that while our poverty and brokenness may vary, its still brokenness. My commonality with my neighbors was my brokenness. Realizing this reconciled barriers between my neighbors and I. Barriers of class, race, age, sex, etc. Barriers that I subconsciously built in my mind. As these walls came down, I realized that the glimpse of God’s kingdom would not be seen in my neighborhood, if I saw myself as “savior” coming to “fix” those around me. God was already here and working. A total mind shift happened. Neighborhood revitalization through the gospel happens when I work with my neighbors rather than for them.
As my fellows year came to a close, I wrestled with what came next. Trying to think of my future while trying to remain present in the neighborhood was a challenge. I wrestled with the idea of whether or not God wanted me to stay in Bellflower, which had quickly become home for me or moving elsewhere. But in the past month, God affirmed his call for me to stay put. Whether it was through randomly running into neighbors at the Laundromat or the new neighbor who asked for me to pray for them because they saw me as someone who had the spirit of God within me. The voice of God telling me to stay was becoming more and more apparent. And that moment at our block party when I saw neighbors connecting with one another, and sharing life together? That was a complete confirmation that God wanted to continue to invest in my neighborhood. Because his work was just beginning and he wanted me to be a part of it. He has taught me what it means to keep my hand to the plow and be faithful to the harvest. So I am proud to say that I am staying put in the Cedar Street!
As I look back on this year, I am taking away so much. I feel more affirmed in God’s calling in my life. Through the challenges of this year, I have been stretched in my faith and my understanding of God and his deep love for me and his children. This year has shown me that developing relationships with my neighbors and embodying God’s love, grace, and mercy is what we’re called to do. We are to share our lives with one another. I can’t imagine living my life any other way. The foundation I have laid here in Bellflower, I will take with me wherever I go. I have also made life-giving relationships. My roommate Laura who I did not know prior to this year has quickly become a sister in Christ, a woman I deeply love and admire. A kind spirit that loves people well, I have enjoyed partnering with her, and learning how work together in our strengths and push each other in our weaknesses has been a true joy. I have also been blessed tremendously through the mentorship of my supervisor, Abbey. She definitely was my biggest cheerleader this year. Pushing me to go forward and pick myself up and lean on to Jesus when I was discouraged. She affirmed God’s goodness in me and embodied his love to me in so many ways. She rejoiced with me, she sat with me as I cried, helped me navigate through big questions this year. I am so thankful for her and the truths she has spoken into my life.
And last but not least. I am thankful for YOU. Thank you for your support. Whether you supported me financially, spiritually, etc. The moments that you prayed for me, encouraged me, provided for me. Thank you for walking this journey with me!
In His Service,
Rachel A. De Los Reyes