Last week, one of our best friends, Gregg, came over to hang out. It was a simple affair- just me, Taylor and Gregg around our kitchen table talking for 2 hours. Over the past year, really the past 6 months, Gregg has become more like family to us. He lives 10 minutes down the street, watches Rio when we’re out of town, and there’s a decent chance that we’re at each others houses on a Tuesday night.
The conversation this Tuesday ranged from friends, to the Texas border, to hunting and fishing, to plans for Labor Day and New Year’s Eve, and then rested for a while on dreams and our neighborhood. Gregg heads up a ministry for middle and high school students in South Austin called Young Life (YL). Taylor and I grew up going to YL in high school and for both of us, our YL leaders were incredible examples and mentors. My YL leader, Katie, taught me what it looked like to live out a relationship with Jesus. In college, we volunteered as leaders at high schools in Austin, and served as backpacking guides at Wilderness Ranch, one of YL’s summer camps. Needless to say, YL is in our blood, and we believe in its mission.
This past spring, we were praying about a move and searching for places to live in Austin (no easy task right now). We decided to move south, largely because of a desire to support Gregg and the work God’s doing through him and South Austin YL. We didn’t just want to support from afar. We wanted to move into the neighborhood.
As Gregg shared his dreams and visions with us about growing YL, about the needs and realities of our community and possible ways to help, I was reminded that caring for people was never meant to be compartmentalized.
During my trip to India last November, Melody Murray echoed this sentiment in one of our very first conversations. Her business, JOYN, gives jobs to some of the most marginalized people groups in India. They have community, good pay, and learn job skills. That could’ve been enough. But then, she helped one of her employees Karma be reunited with her son, Sonam. She started a micro loan program so her employees could have an opportunity to buy their own transportation. She’s worked with doctors to find treatments so that Raju, who currently doesn’t have use of his legs due to polio, can walk one day. When asked why she goes out of her way, why she goes above and beyond to help these people, she responds with “These people are my family. Why wouldn’t I help them? When you love someone, this is what you do.”
It was a blessing to hear Gregg talk about his same approach in loving kids and their families in South Austin. To hear that for him, YL isn’t just about getting kids to come to an event on a Monday night. It’s about also helping them find places to live, get occupational training or medical care they need, about showing up when their homes are destroyed by floods. It’s about holistic care. It’s about the whole person- body, mind, heart and soul- not just about one or the other. Because loving someone isn’t saying “I’ll tell you about Jesus, but that glaring physical, tangible problem you have? Can’t help you with that.” Jesus didn’t tell the blind man the good news, and then walk away without healing his sight. He didn’t give grace to the bleeding woman without healing her bleeding. Jesus healed her physical ailment first.
I was reminded that people who need help don’t just live in India or Africa. They are not across the ocean or in a different country. They live right down the street. Literally. No matter where you live, there are people who are hurting and struggling. In some neighborhoods, it might look like a burden of financial debt or divorce or addictions. In others, it might look like not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night, or if you have enough money for dinner.
I’ve lived in Austin for close to 8 years now. I think when you live somewhere for a while, when things become routine and normal, it can become hard to really see. To really see places and people, to see what’s actually going on beneath the surface. I feel that especially in a city like Austin. Everyone hears about our celebrity chefs, great musicians and a new festival every weekend, but not as much about our sizable homeless population, people living below the poverty line, gentrification, segregation, abuse, drunk driving, sex trafficking and orphans. These things are real, and they are happening in our city.
Last Tuesday night reminded me of all of that. It reminded me that we were put here for a purpose, that we have the ability to bring hope and restoration to dark places because of Jesus. That if we look at Jesus’ life and how he tells us to live, this is our response: To see. To engage. To be present. To love.