The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Oct 23, 2007

After work on a fine Friday, I drove to a very dear friend’s house to visit her new little baby boy.  It was a joyful time of celebration.   Our conversation for the evening centered on God’s leading in our lives, transition, the challenges of growing up, feeling the weight of increasing responsibility, and the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s leading in difficult decision making.  After a wonderful evening of interaction with my own culture (religion, music, pop culture, socio-economics, race, language, cuisine, etc), I felt renewed and understood. 

It is difficult living as an alien every day, being the odd man out, especially in my own country.  In my culture, I can relate.  I am educated.  I have confidence.  I feel I have something to offer to the conversation.  I am well versed in all the “Stuff White People Like.”  However, I find myself in a place where people could care less if I have a bachelor’s degree.   My confidence shrinks as I walk around sounding like a two-year-old spitting out broken Spanish.  I celebrate, as it is rare, when I effectively tell a funny story and it translates both literally and culturally.  

In Chirilagua they don’t really care that I worked for the US Refugee program.  Many of them don’t even know what that is. My international travel experiences, which I wear like medal in my peer circles, means little here. I struggle with shame and guilt because it appears to be such wasteful luxury in the midst of such incredible necessity.  My life experience and privilege has no applicability in this world of living pay check to pay check. Suddenly my relationships, identity, and worth are no longer based on what I do or what I’ve experienced but who I am, the way I care, and how well I love.

On my way home from my escape, I rolled past Executive Ave. (one street over from our apartment) and saw the flashing red and blue lights signaling from the top of five police cars that some type of trouble had once again either been contemplated or practiced in my neighborhood.  It wasn’t exactly the safe “welcome home” that I’d been hoping for that midnight.  I wanted to retreat back to my friend’s house for another taste of the life I felt I had given up,  a house with personal space, where I didn’t hear the mice playing in the stove at night, where I could get a drink of water at 2 am without watching 20 cockroaches scurry away when I turn on the light, where the music upstairs doesn’t boom until 2 AM, and the walls actually contain insulation to intercept outside conversations.   I sighed to myself and sent a quick prayer to God, “Father, remind me once again why I’m here.  Remind me why you placed me here where I struggle to communicate and often feel misunderstood, where I am outside of my element, for I know you have called me here to this place for such a time as this.”

Then God did the most interesting thing.   As I pulled down Russell Road and gazed on the buildings in which my neighbors were fast asleep, He lifted the walls of the buildings and gave me eyes to see. Inside, there were people packed into apartments like sardines, multiple children in a bed, people sleeping on floors with nothing more than a blanket, cots pulled out in the living room, each couch with an individual sleeping upon it.  I pulled up to my apartment building, parked my car, pulled the key from the ignition and gazed upon the window to my room.  God had provided for me an apartment which I shared with only two other individuals.   I had a room which I shared with only one other person, but most of all, I was going to sleep by myself in my own bed tonight.

Beyond the barriers and hurdles I must overcome in this culture every day, I saw some of the lessons which I still have to learn.  I saw the sacrifice my neighbors make in order to be here, in order to support their families back home, because there really were no other viable options in their own countries to clothe, house, and keep bellies full.  I saw the way they worked so hard and lived on so little, making sacrifices so as not to leave their families behind in their poverty. 

For some reason God has called me to live in the tension of these two worlds, living my life beside the “have nots” as a descendent and beneficiary of the “haves.” I hope that my neighbors are the “will bes” and by choosing to share what we have, learning to love others who are a bit different, and seeing them as people created in the image of God, we can over time all look a little bit closer to “equal.”

We are a community of people “learning together to love our neighbors as ourselves” in a Latino neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia.

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Our relational network of volunteers and donors reflects a diverse group of individuals from all over the Washington, D.C. metro area. As a non-profit, we rely on the community for assisting program directors on-site, being mentors, supplying the needs of our food pantry, and everything in between. Each member of our Casa community holds a unique gift, whether time, talent or treasure.