Ferguson: The Light, The Dark, & The Need For Reconciliation (by Elisa Doty)

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(full transcript below)

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“Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.”  – Mother Teresa 

To say that these past few months have been challenging would be an understatement. Both in my personal life and in my city, things have literally and figuratively been going up in flames. Like so many, my heart grieved after hearing of the tragic event that took place on August 9th and the reactions that soon followed. Since that day, emotion have heightened and have ranged from frustration and anger, to sadness and grief, to passion and joy. There has been much said and re-said, written and rewritten. At times, it’s simply been overwhelming! And honestly, you don’t need my opinions, my thoughts, or my proposed solutions. It would be wrong of me to assume that I have any real understanding of the issues that have arisen in the hearts of so many over these past couple of months. But I do see a need! My heart fills with compassion and is greatly burdened for ALL people, to know hope. A real and a tangible hope, a hope of healing and a hope of restoration.

Regardless of specific views, I’m daily confronted with people, who like myself, are longing to be a part of something bigger, longing for something to change, and longing for things to be made right……but what is right? Is there an answer?  We cry out for justice. We pray for peace. We speak of love, yet my own heart asks, do I know what love, peace, and justice look like?

As I went before the Lord, as I searched my own heart, and as I spoke with close friends, the idea of something bigger kept arising. Something bigger than you or I. Something that would transcend generations and cross racial and social lines.

Because, if we’re looking for our streets to be calm and crime free, if we’re looking for there to be an end to racial profiling, if we’re looking for some sort of government reform, or if we’re simply waiting for things to die down so that we can get back to life as usual, then our goal and our aim is too small! I implore you to see something greater!

We’ve all heard it: “every issue is ultimately a heart issue.” And yes, we’ve seen the very heart of our city exposed. St. Louis has been known for being hyper segregated. It’s a place where race and economic status have divided us for so long. And in many ways we have become calloused to the hurt in our city and to our very own prejudices.

I wish I could say that I’ve been surprised by the all the violence, by the destruction, by the rioting, by the protests, by the anger, by the passivity, by the insensitivity, or by the countless people now falling on their knees in prayer…but I can’t.

I can’t because I know my own heart, I know how easy it is for anger and pride to arise. I know how easy it is to be passive or passionate about something. Yes, I’ve experienced pain, but what I’m learning is that it’s through pain and the exposing of the darkness in my own heart that healing is then able to take place.

Mother Teresa said, “The way you heal the world, is you start with your own family.” And I would add, you start with you, with your own heart. You cannot lead anyone to a place of healing if you don’t know the way yourself. By God’s design our own journey of healing can bring healing to others. So let’s look at our own heart. Let’s ask, “am I willing for God to begin the work of peace, justice, and love in me? Despite how hard or uncomfortable it is, am I willing to allow Him to expose the darkness of my own life, the things that I would much rather leave untouched?” For many of us the answer will be no, but for some, I pray that the answer is yes.

I write these words with a heaviness of heart, because of the utter brokenness I’ve seen in homes across this city and region. I’ve seen the widespread effects of our wickedness, how jealousy can destroy a home and how anger plays out on the streets.

Every intention of the human heart is evil and sinful at its core. Not only does this divide us from one another, but it also divides us from the very one who created us, the one who loves us, and the one who ultimately gives value to each and every life. And although I may not yet know what our reconciliation really looks like, I know the God who does. The God who is love, the God who gives peace, the God who sovereignly sits on a throne of justice and who is righteous in everything that He does. It’s to Him we look. The grand solution that we’re all searching for in our lives and in our city comes from HIS powerful hand alone.  GOD, perfect in all His ways, looking on us the unjust and the unrighteous. Choosing to have compassion, when we ourselves were helpless and completely without hope. He chose to come. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have hope of reconciliation, first to God and then to one another. Jesus alone is the source of healing. We look to Him, to his word, and to the cross. Because whether we know it or not, each and every one of us is in desperate need of a savior. And that savior is Jesus Christ.

And yes, JESUS is a NEED! He’s not like a drug that you try out to simply mask the problem in hopes that you get hooked and so that you won’t have to face or feel the pain anymore. He’s not about covering up the darkness. He’s about cutting through it with a light and a love that brings true healing. So despite all of the challenges we face, I’m excited, because I serve a God who works through our brokenness and He is faithful!

I urge you brothers and sisters, be reconciled to God and to one another through Christ Jesus. Don’t harden your hearts, but be willing to allow the Light of Christ to shine in the darkest of places. First in your own heart, in your own family, and then in our city also.

Romans 3:22-24  says,
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Elisa Doty (Community Outreach Advocate, Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)

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Ferguson: A Better Way (by Miles Dela Cruz)

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss wrote this in The Lorax. It appears simple and straightforward, but carries deep meaning.

With the killing of young Michael Brown, the community roared out with cries of pain and injustice. People want change. People want better. We should always want better. These wounds and issues are now in our faces, and we have to face them as individuals and as a community. Instead of pushing for better changes using the ways that caused these wounds and issues, let us find a new way. That way is in Christ. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). There are a lot of things that we do not know or fully understand. We must pray and trust. We must pray for understanding and then trust that our Lord will guide us. He only wants good for us. We must trust that. Trusting that is the better way.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11). We cannot continue divided. Pray for each other. Pray for our government leaders and community leaders. Love each other. We all have faults. We all have problems. Help one another. Be united. Do not stand alone to fight against the world. Stand united to better the world. Stand together as a neighborhood. Then a city. Then a state. Then a nation. Then create a better world. We need to build a better world. Do not tear down our city through killings or riots. Do not tear down our world. We cannot continue divided. There is a better way. The better way is unity in Christ.

by STL street artist Ed Boxx

by STL street artist Ed Boxx

Miles Dela Cruz (Development Manager, Theater/Music/Academic Mentor)

Ferguson: Love Produces Hope (by Andrew Gibson)

On August 9, 2014, we had our third annual Freedom Arts Expo. We had over 50 kids show up and participate in music, dance, poetry, pottery, painting, drawing, jewelry making, and more. The rain stayed away, the sun shined, and our scholars learned, created, laughed, and smiled.

On August 9, 2014, young Michael Brown was dying after being shot by police officer Darren Wilson only 14 miles north of us in Ferguson. Whether you throw a tiny pebble or a huge rock into a pond, there will be ripples that will move across the water and hit the other sides. This tragic situation has created ripples. A young man is dead. His family will have to live without him. The city of Ferguson has been torn up. Issues of race have boiled over. Relationships between police officers and civilians are proving to be poor.

This matters to me. So I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. I’ve listened. I’ve vented. Prayed more. Cried more. Pondered. Stood with protestors. Prayed more. Pondered more. Went to meetings. Had conversations. Discussed solutions. Had arguments. Prayed more. Pondered more. Because this matters to me.
I think Michael Brown should still be alive. I think Darren Wilson screwed up big time. I think this tragedy is symptomatic of a much larger issue involving race and authority. I think all issues come down to being issues of the hearts of people. That’s what needs to be fixed first.

There were race and authority problems in Jesus’ time too. There was prejudice, corruption, crime, and hate. He was subjected to similar issues. He faced them. How? What did he do during his time?

He taught. He took a small group of people from all different walks of life and he taught them love and respect. He built them up. He healed people along the way. He walked away from the places and people that rejected him.

I discussed with my Freedom Arts staff what, if anything, we could or should do differently. My wise brother and Program Director Corey Williams reminded us that we are already doing something. We have been doing something. We’re teaching and building up the underserved and misunderstood. We’re teaching love and respect. We’re preaching faith, hope, and love. We’re preaching purpose, vision, and direction. We’re preaching God-given worth. We’re teaching that Jesus is the way, truth, and life.

So I challenged my team to do it more boldly, accurately, and often. I challenged them to consider their thoughts and feelings about this situation, and then share them with the community. I felt personally convicted to spread the message of Jesus that sometimes gets lost in church teachings: the message of true, sacrificial, unconditional love.

My friend, brother, and Freedom Arts Board member Kenny DeShields is an excellent songwriter who has several songs about love. One that comes to mind now says “when it’s tough, when it’s unfair, that’s when you love. When it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, that’s when you love.” That’s the truth.

The Bible tells us to love each other and bear with each other (Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, the list goes on). It also tells us to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12). That’s the truth.

We want justice. We want reconciliation. We want truth. All of those are found in love. It starts right there. Nothing changes without it. Start by loving. Start by lamenting, listening, and lifting up.

The truth is that there is no earthly solution for a spiritual problem. Situations are unfair, but there is justice in Christ. Relationships are broken, but there is restoration in Christ. Stories are skewed and biased, but there is truth in Christ. This truth is that he loves us, and this love produces hope.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5).

Follow Christ. Know the truth. Receive love. Get hope.

R Faith Hope Love

Andrew Gibson (Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic Mentor)

What I’m Worth (by Miles Dela Cruz)

Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” This is a good verse to remind me every morning that God is GOOD. Despite my mistakes, He has made me in His good image.10501434_10152303831123198_427699438_n

The clothes we wear, the tattoos we have, or the jewelry we wear do not decide our worth. A twenty dollar bill marked up with stamps, written on, and drawn all over is still worth twenty dollars because of the image of US President Andrew Jackson on the front of the bill. Throughout the world and the different nations, currency has different values and that value cannot be destroyed. But even the value of our currency is man-assigned and of THIS world. Our worth goes beyond this world, for our worth is not determined by us or anything we do! In the eternal kingdom, the dollars we use are worthless, but because we were created for the eternal kingdom, we are invaluable! 10506201_10152303816263198_1044672718_oGenesis 1:28 tells us that our Father has created us in his image to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” But more importantly, God has enabled us to overcome sin through Him. Our worth is determined from the one who created us: the Lord our Father.

What worries me are not the articles of clothing I wear but the scars I may have. A few years ago I made a terrible mistake. I was drinking alcohol excessively and had not one care for the consequences. I would drive dangerously under the influence of alcohol and it was scary. Late one night after I had been drinking for hours, I got into my car and started the ignition. I backed up, pulled out of the parking lot, and was immediately pulled over. I was sitting in my car with the police lights illuminating the whole street. I failed a field sobriety test and was arrested. My thoughts while in the police car ranged from, “How could I be this dumb?” to “What will my friends think of me now?” As crazy as this may sound, I’m so thankful that I did get pulled over right as I left the parking lot and was arrested. I’m so thankful that I didn’t endanger the lives of anyone on the roads. I had my driver’s license taken away and lost the job I had at the time. I was so worried about what people would think of me. “Just another mistake and failure to further people’s thoughts of me not being a good person.” But that wasn’t God’s plan. God’s plan was for me to overcome this bad habit and learn from my mistake so I could become stronger and grow closer to our Father.

Over the next few years, I had to attend AA meetings, complete community service hours, and rely on the strength from God to overcome the consequences from my mistake. It wasn’t the end of me. With God’s love and compassion, I didn’t allow that mistake to take over my life and let it define me in a negative light.photo_32215_20110228_9124710_std
I let God define me, for He has makes me stronger. He has made me in His image. He has created me and crafted me.

I have made many mistakes and have many different types of physical and emotional scars due to those mistakes. I worry that the scars will make me less of a person, but I thank God that it’s in His image I was created and He cannot be tainted. Jeremiah 1:5 tells us “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

We all have made mistakes. We all have scars. That’s not what makes us. The Lord our Father created us and wants us to spread the good news to all people. Through the mistakes I smile. Through the scars I continue. I’m not the first to make a mistake and I won’t be the last.Photo 174 Through these words I pray you learn of the worth our Creator and Father has placed in each of us. We are His works of art. I hope this small part of my ongoing story blesses you in some way.

In His image,

Miles Dela Cruz (Technology Manager, Assistant Mentor)