We wish you a happy new year!
I love writing our New Year’s letter every year. I really do. It gives me a chance to reflect, set intentions, reminisce and envision all that the coming year could be. But as I sit here at my computer as we approach the end of 2018, I don’t even know where to begin in my list of everything that has transpired this year—and I find myself fixating on the tragedies that have befallen our community.
The first, of course, is the devastation of the Camp Fire on November 8th. We really can’t make sense of this disaster, even as evacuation orders have been fully lifted and our neighbors begin to figure out how to rebuild their lives. Every day, the line between evacuees and the chronically homeless of our community blurs a little more.
And here at the Jesus Center, we have had more than our share of burials, deterioration, and dead ends. Many of our friends on the streets have not quite gotten to a place where they are ready to end their homelessness or their addictions. This is endemic in their illnesses, their despair, and their trauma.
Alongside these hardships, there have certainly been beautiful things: babies born to newly sober moms, job skills developed, careers begun, permanent housing established, and the healing of souls, minds, and bodies.
I am grateful for the symbolism of the start of the New Year that is exactly what our community needs now: Christ, in this time of great tumult and uncertainty, is walking in our midst each day and “making all things new.”
In fact, if you look around, you’ll see God has already begun this work! “I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). With all of that in mind, how do we ready ourselves for 2019?
- Do we grin and bear it, knowing that post Camp Fire our community will never be the same?
- Or do we double down, knowing that we are called to act, to love, and to enter into our community like never before?
Perhaps this New Year, we will resolve to grow closer to Christ in our daily lives: resolve to care for the least among us, resolve to hold the Sabbath in order to give our hearts time to truly rest and heal, resolve to spend a little more time with God each day because we know that, through prayer, God will work through us to heal our community.
Let me reaffirm what the Jesus Center stands on: the truth that each human being is the beloved child of God. No ifs, no buts, no addresses or forms of identification required. Sure, we can describe those who are homeless because of the fire differently than those who were homeless before. But, we can’t value them any differently. Our loving God doesn’t do that and as God’s people we can’t either. So, let’s start by proclaiming that each of our brothers and sisters, wherever they are, are the Beloved. As Franciscan monk Richard Rohr says,“when we’ve received real grace, we are no longer in the position of deciding who the ‘worthy poor’ are.”
Let’s also recognize that even though we are thrilled at the fact that we are in escrow for four acres of land and positioned to host a collaborative, integrated Renewal Center to help the marginalized, the most important building we can do is relationship building. It is still one of my greatest hopes for 2019 that we will recruit 2-3 volunteers to simply come to meals and sit and break bread with our participants, just to give the gift of presence.
We can’t program those experiencing homelessness into health; we have to love them into wholeness. Once someone is sure that they matter, then they will engage in their future, their health, their restoration.
This last two months have been unprecedented and have transformed our community. “But how have we transformed?” We might ask. We really don’t know, do we? My challenge to you, our supporters, is to ask yourself this: how can you insure that the lost and the broken do not slip further into despair and poverty?
If this matters to you, please join the Jesus Center with a financial gift, with prayer, and with love to guarantee that in the midst of this real tragedy, those experiencing homelessness are not forgotten. We have recommitted to our mission, our people and our methods. We surely will need to shift what we do, the services we provide in the midst of these new opportunities and new challenges. But we will never shift who we are or who we love.
We have more government help in this community than ever before, but I have recommitted to the idea that the best support is local, it is private, and it is responsive. Your gift and your commitment to the Jesus Center is just that!
Please accept my deepest gratitude and my sincere prayers that you will find your reason to be in this community at this time. I am sure that those of us who care for the least and the lost will find more paths than ever before to serve and to give.
Laura Cootsona, Executive Director