Why Relocation Matters...

Written by Joel Davis, YH Intern, Originally posted at hisvigorousheart.blogspot.com

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

The sun beats mercilessly through the windshield as I wind my way through the streets of Highland. Yet again, my arms are not so much glistening as they are dripping with sweat. The seatbelt has already stamped a diagonal wet mark across my chest, and I haven’t even been driving for 5 minutes. It’s a good thing I remembered to stash an extra pair of clothes in my backpack this morning. 

My car has a leak somewhere in the air conditioning system, and none of the windows roll down--so in this Louisiana heat, some days can get pretty miserable. I arrive at the Cedar Grove Friendship House where I volunteer with under resourced high-schoolers every afternoon absolutely drenched, mumble some hello’s, and head straight for the dirty bathroom in the back that never seems to have any paper towels. 

As I stand there trying to wipe off enough sweat to avoid soaking my fresh change of clothes the moment I put them on, it hits me: This isn’t easy. And I’m not just talking about crappy cars or Cajun humidity. When I walk out of that bathroom, I will be face to face with a room full of strangers who are absolutely foreign to me. Everything about them, from their skin color and their taste in music to the streets they grew up on or the way they’re being taught math; it’s totally “other” to my way of life. Just last week, the dad of two of the boys I work with got shot and killed, and that’s unfortunately not uncommon in this city. They were just glad it wasn’t their mother or the man who runs the House where we meet. The funeral was Saturday. 

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

In the face of so much otherness, it isn’t easy to relate to these kids. It certainly isn’t comfortable. And I know it must not be any easier from their end, either. Here’s this young white guy who’s graduated from college and traveled the world who now tries to help with homework or serves them food but doesn’t usually eat any of it. 

I realize then that the lines are blurred; these poor black 14-year-olds have iPhones and instagram accounts and the latest Nike shoes, but this rich white 24-year old has never owned an Apple product or a new pair of Nikes in his life and drives a car that is about as worthless as a greenhouse on wheels. But at the same time, violence is a norm for them and eating spaghetti with Rotel is apparently some type of delicacy, whereas I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a ten-foot pole and I’ve never been in a legitimate fight in my life. I realize that understanding happens not from perpetuating stereotypes, but through genuine relationships. It’s only when each of us, on both sides, are willing to relocate some part of our being that we are able to find fullness, honesty, and vulnerability in the relationship. 

This idea of relocation has been one of our main themes at the Yellow House. We believe one of the best ways to follow Christ is to relocate (either physically, spiritually, or ideologically) away from ourselves and towards Him. For us, we talk about relocating to the abandoned places of empire; those areas populated by the oppressed, the forgotten, the ones whose voices have been overlooked by the wealthy and powerful in the name of convenience, comfort, and efficiency. 

When we relocate from our perspective of privilege, we are able to love others as Christ loves them. Sometimes that means actually physically selling our things, giving to the poor, and living among them. Other times it merely means being willing to engage an idea that is new or uncomfortable, “relocating” from what we have always been taught. At the Yellow House, we have tried to strike a balance between the two. And what we have found is that by befriending the unloved and listening to their perspectives, we can better determine what it looks like to follow Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Here at Club (that’s what we call our after-school program) it’s especially true. Despite our differences and different-ness, the effort to trust, to know and be known, is being made every day. And I am finding that lines which used to be clearly established dividing black and white (no pun intended?) now appears much more fluid, more grey, and is at times even invisible. By relocating to this space and among these people, I am continually becoming aware of my own prejudices, my own faults, and they’re things I would have remained ignorant of otherwise, if I had remained in my safe, comfortable, rigidly perfect life. 

I don’t want to preach at you, but I feel like the question needs to be asked: How have you relocated your life, your thoughts, or your faith? How are you changing--not for change’s sake itself, but in order to avoid becoming stagnant, and to ensure that you are still growing and bearing good fruit? Maybe this blog (and countless others like it, let’s be real; I don’t think that highly of myself) can be a start. But don’t let mere head knowledge and vicarious living alone convince you into thinking you’re relocating and growing; at some point this information has to reach your lifestyle and your actions have to be changed.

As for me, I will continue to walk in this path of relocation, wherever the road may lead.