south austin dreaming

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.

today is the day: JOYN india

I’ve been alternating between tears and giddiness all morning as I think about today.

Today is the day our Light The World team has been working towards for the past month.

As you know, in November I traveled to India with a group of photographers to partner with JOYN India to tell their story.


Turns out their stories are incredible, and keeping them to myself for the past month hasn’t been the easiest task. Have you ever tried keeping pure joy contained? If so, you get what I’m saying.

These stories are not flickering candles in a dark room, struggling to stay lit. No, they are bursting, blinding rays of sunlight pouring in through the cracks in the walls. So strong, powerful and bright that the darkness can no longer sustain and the light overcomes, consuming everything in its path. 

That is the joy I’ve been experiencing while having the privilege of writing these stories the past month. And now… today… it’s time. It’s time for you to know, not as in head knowledge but in heart knowledge, that joy is real. That restoration and healing and redemption does happen, is happening, all over the world. It’s time for you to meet the faces behind the wonderful products that JOYN India produces. It’s time for you to join in. 

Founded in 2010 by Dave and Melody Murray, JOYN and their sister company Dehradun Guitar Co., collectively work with over 120 artisans from India, Nepal and Tibet. The artisans are fathers and mothers who long to provide their children with education that leads to a promising future. They are teenagers who have chosen to learn a skill and work for a living instead of begging on the streets. Every single artisan has a story of perseverance through incredibly difficult hardship, and without the investment of JOYN and DGC in their lives they would have little to no opportunity to earn a decent living.

What these two organizations are doing is so holistic, so multi-faceted. It is more than just job creation. JOYN and DGC care for their artisans on every level of the human existence– from providing jobs so they can eat well and support their families, to creating a micro-loan program that gives their artisans even more opportunity, to teaching values of excellence, integrity and humility.

the JOYN family
the JOYN family

I had the privilege of seeing first-hand the transformation taking place in people’s lives because of the work of JOYN and DGC. It would mean the world to me if you would spend some time reading their stories over at our website. They truly are incredible. Make sure to check back regularly- we’ll be updating with more stories over the next few weeks!

In addition, it would mean so much if you would consider giving financially. JOYN is growing quickly, and the only thing slowing them down is lack of space. They are desperately in need of new (and more) buildings so they can house their workshop, education and training facilities and transitional housing all in one place. Last monsoon season, JOYN lost 40% of its inventory due to rain damage. With new buildings, they can not only secure inventory, but can provide more jobs and restore more lives. 

JOYN needs your help to raise $100,000, so they can complete the new buildings before the next monsoon season in June. 

If JOYN India’s mission resonates with you, would you consider joining me in supporting them? You can give directly from our website. 

AND here’s a bonus: The first 200 people who give at least $50 will receive an exclusive Light The World tote bag, hand-woven, block-printed and stitched by those joyful faces you’ll see on our website. Isn’t it beautiful? The leather handle just does it for me.

photo by esther havens
photo by esther havens

I’m so excited to finally get to share these artisans’ stories with you. I hope they touch your heart as they’ve touched mine.

P.S. If you’re still searching for Christmas gifts, JOYN has some great options for the women in your life. You can find their products online here and here.